Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Population Numbers and Trends
Historic and Present Distribution
Distribution by Country
Habitat and Ecology
Current Conservation Measures
Priority Conservation Measures
The Demoiselle Crane is the second most abundant of the world’s cranes (only
the Sandhill Crane is more numerous). The total population is estimated at 200-240,000,
but reliable surveys of the species have been conducted in only limited portions
of its range. There are no known subspecies. Six main populations are distinguished
here. The three eastern populations—the Eastern Asia, Kazakhstan/Central Asia,
and Kalmykia—are abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. The Black Sea population
consists of approximately 500 individuals. A disjunct resident population in the
Atlas Plateau of northern Africa is believed to include no more than 50 individuals.
A small breeding population exists in Turkey.
Historical records indicate that the species’ range has contracted substantially in western Eurasia and northern Africa, as well as in Kazakhstan and other areas further east. The species is classified Lower Risk (Least Concern) under the revised IUCN Red List Categories. However, the Atlas and Turkey populations are classified Critically Endangered, and the Black Sea and East Asia populations Endangered and Vulnerable respectively.
The species breeds in the Eurasian steppes from the Black Sea to northeastern China. The main wintering grounds are in India, Sudan, and other portions of eastern Africa to Chad. Demoiselle Cranes are primarily grassland birds, but are usually found within a few hundred meters of rivers, shallow lakes, depressions, or other natural wetlands. If water is available, they will inhabit even semi-deserts and true deserts. Their winter habitats in east-central Africa include acacia savannahs, grasslands, and riparian areas. In India, they feed in agricultural fields and stubble fields, and roost in shallow water or on sandbars and mudflats surrounded by water.
The future of the Demoiselle Crane is more secure than most crane species due to its large total population, broad range, abundant breeding habitat, adaptability, and high rate of breeding success (even in areas inhabited by people). However, the species faces a number of serious threats. Its breeding habitats in natural steppe areas are highly attractive for agricultural conversion (although it has adapted to agricultural fields under some circumstances). Its wintering grounds are subject to increased disturbance and agricultural development as a result of rising human populations. Other threats include collecting, indiscriminate hunting, and persecution as a result of the crop damage they can sometimes cause. These threats have brought about the species’ decline in the western part of its range, and have endangered local populations in other areas.
Conservation measures that have benefitted the Demoiselle Crane include: protection, either through cultural traditions or formal legal restrictions, in many range countries; establishment of numerous protected areas; extensive local surveys and studies of several key migration routes; development of a monitoring program for the threatened Black Sea population; exchange of information on the species in several international forums; and intensive crane education programs in India and Pakistan. No release or reintroduction programs are underway, but releases into areas from which the species has been extirpated (or where it exists in critically low numbers) have been considered.
Priority conservation measures for the species include: expanded conservation efforts focused on the Atlas, Turkey, and Black Sea populations and their habitats; expansion of key protected areas and establishment of new protected areas in important habitats; development and adoption of agricultural practices that can minimize the degree of interference between cranes and farmers; coordinated international surveys of the species; studies of the migration routes, resting areas, and wintering grounds of various populations; public education programs in the species’ breeding range and along its migration routes; and development of a more specialized education program involving hunters in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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|Atlas (northern Africa)||<50||Declining||Brahim in press,
Newton in press b
|Black Sea||approx. 500||Declining||J. van der Ven
|Kalmykia||30-35,000||Stable||Kovshar et al. 1995,
V. Flint pers. comm.,
S. Newton pers. comm.
|Kazakhstan/Central Asia||100,000||Stable to increasing||Kovshar et al. 1995|
|Eastern Asia||70-100,000||Stable to declining||Fujita et al. 1994,
Kovshar et al. 1995,
Bold et al. 1995,
J. Harris pers. comm.
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|IUCN category||Lower Risk (least concern)|
|Atlas||Critically Endangered, under criteria
A1a,c,d A2c,d C1 C2b D
|Black Sea||Endangered, under criteria
|Turkey||Critically Endangered, under criteria
A1a,c,d A2c,d C2b D
|Kalmykia||Lower Risk (Least Concern)|
|Kazakhstan/Central Asia||Lower Risk (Least Concern)|
|Eastern Asia||Vulnerable, under criterion
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Historical records indicate that the species’ breeding range has contracted substantially in western Eurasia and in some portions of central and eastern Asia (Sudilovskaya 1963, Kovshar 1987, Winter et al. 1995). The species originally bred throughout the southern Eurasian steppes, from Mongolia in the east to the Dobrudzha region of Romania and Bulgaria in the west, with known outlier breeding populations in the Atlas Plateau of northwest Africa and in eastern Turkey. The species was recorded in Spain through the 1800s, but information on its occurrence is scarce and unreliable (J. A. Alonso pers. comm.). The species last bred in Tunisia and Algeria in the early part of the 20th century (Johnsgard 1983). It was extirpated as a breeding bird in Dobrudzha in the 1920s, and now occurs in the Balkan Peninsula only irregularly during migration (Flint 1987, Kovshar 1987, T. Michev pers. comm.). Since the 1950s the Black Sea population in Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine has declined substantially (Winter et al. 1995). Little is known about historic changes in the small breeding populations of Turkey and North Africa (Kasparek 1988, Eames 1989, Newton in press a).
Although still abundant in many areas, the species has declined (in some cases rapidly) in Central Asia, and other parts of its range over the last several decades. These populations seem to have stabilized, and may now be increasing, in areas where human density is low and agricultural conversion of their steppe habitats is limited, as in portions of Kazakhstan (Kovshar 1987). The eastern steppes, especially in central Mongolia, are the species’ stronghold. However, even the large eastern populations are now vulnerable as their steppe habitats are developed and as human pressures mount in their wintering areas. The wintering populations in eastern Nepal have declined over the last 15 years as a result of direct persecution (R. Suwal pers. comm).
The species is broadly dispersed during the breeding season. Six populations have been identified.
This population probably numbers no more than 50. Recent estimates suggest that it contains only 10-12 individuals, and may no longer be breeding (Brahim in press, Newton in press a). The breeding grounds are in the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The wintering grounds have not been definitively established, but are likely along the Niger River (J. van der Ven pers. comm.) or possibly in the vicinity of Lake Chad (Scholte in press).
This population numbers approximately 500 (J. van der Ven pers. comm., Y. Andryushchenko pers. comm.). The breeding grounds are mainly in the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea and other portions of southeastern Ukraine (Grinchenko 1988b, Winter et al. 1995). The population migrates across and around the Black Sea through Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt to wintering grounds in Ethiopia and Sudan. This population has declined steadily since the 1950s. It no longer occurs as a breeding bird in Romania, Moldova, or Bulgaria, nor as a wintering bird in Egypt (Atta 1995, T. Michev pers. comm.).
This population is poorly studied. It is believed to include fewer than 100 individuals (Kasparek 1988). These birds breed in Eastern Anatolia in Turkey and probably migrate with the Black Sea and Kalmykia birds to Sudan and other areas of East Africa. This population and the Black Sea population are separated by the Caucasus Mountains. In the past, both were probably part of a single contiguous population, now interrupted by local extirpations, that surrounded the Black Sea (J. van der Ven pers. comm).
This population numbers 30,000-35,000 and is considered stable. The breeding grounds are located between the Black and Caspian Seas. The population migrates through Georgia, eastern Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East to wintering grounds in Sudan, Ethiopia, and other areas of east Africa (Newton in press b).
This population is estimated at 100,000. The breeding grounds are east of the Caspian Sea throughout Kazakhstan. The population migrates through Afghanistan and Pakistan to wintering grounds in the western portions of the Indian subcontinent. The Indian state of Gujarat is the core wintering area. The states of Maharashtra and Karnataka are also important wintering areas, while Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are critical during severe droughts (Perennou and Mundkur 1991). The degree of concentration in wintering flocks also varies in response to monsoon patterns (Perennou and Mundkur 1991). This population declined sharply in the 1950s and 1960s, but stabilized and eventually began to increase in the 1980s (Kovshar et al. 1995).
No complete survey of this population has been undertaken. Estimates derived from partial surveys suggest a total of 70-100,000 (Fujita et al. 1994, Kovshar et al. 1995, Bold et al. 1995, J. Harris pers. comm., G. Archibald pers. obs.). The breeding grounds are in Mongolia, northern China, and southeastern Russia (Bankovics 1987, Ma 1991). The population migrates across China and through the Himalayan range (Martens 1971). Some of the birds winter in southern China, Nepal, and other portions of the eastern Indian subcontinent, but most join the birds from the Kazakhstan/Central Asia population in the wintering areas of western India. The population is thought to be generally stable, but may be declining in some localities.
|Bulgaria||M (irregular), X(b)|
|Moldova||M (irregular), X(b)|
|Romania||M (irregular), X(b)|
|Saudi Arabia||M, W (rare)|
|United Arab Emirates||W (rare)|
|B = Present during breeding season|
|M = Present during migration|
|W = Present during winter|
|V = Vagrant|
|X = Extirpated: (b) as a breeding
species; (m) as a migrant;
(w) as a wintering species; (r) as a permanent resident
|? = Unconfirmed|
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Demoiselle Cranes are primarily birds of dry grasslands (savannahs, steppes, and semi-deserts). They do, however, utilize agricultural fields and wetter steppe areas, and are normally found within a few hundred meters of stream and rivers, shallow lakes, depressions, and other natural wetlands (Winter 1991, Yang and Tong 1991, Fujita et al. 1994). The breeding sites of the Turkey population are found in wetlands along rivers and creeks (Kasparek 1988). The density of breeding birds and size of breeding territories can vary widely from year to year in response to precipitation levels. Where water is available, they will inhabit semi-desert areas and even true deserts, alkali flats, and other vegetation-poor lands. They have been found nesting as high as 3000 m above sea level in mountain valleys and steppes of Kirghizia (Kydyraliev 1995).
In nesting areas, Demoiselle Cranes prefer patchy vegetation (e.g., Artemesia spp., Stipa spp., Festuca spp.) of sufficient height to conceal them and their nests, but short enough to allow them to look out while incubating. Nest sites near the tops of slopes are especially valued. In recent years, as extensive areas of their steppe habitats have been converted to cropland, Demoiselle Cranes have begun to adapt to agricultural fields. This trend has been observed in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and other steppe regions (Baranov 1982, Kovshar 1987, Kovshar et al. 1995, Winter et al. 1995). In Ukraine, the Black Sea population may now preferentially select agricultural fields for breeding sites. Their success in these regions, however, depends upon the extent, type, and timing of local farming practices (Winter et al. 1995, Y. Andryushchenko pers. comm.).
Nests are found on small open patches of grass, cultivated ground, or gravel, and show minimal preparation. Small pebbles and some thin bedding may be gathered together, but eggs are often laid directly on the ground. Usually two eggs are laid. The incubation period is 27-29 days, and the fledging period of 55-65 days is the shortest of any crane (Johnsgard 1983, S. Swengel pers. comm.).
Demoiselle Crane families are mobile soon after the chicks hatch. Their diet consists primarily of plant materials, insects, and other small animal foods. During the growing season and along migration routes, they will feed as well on cereal grains, peanuts, beans, and other crops. During the prefledging period, adults and chicks can cover considerable distances in their search for insects and other food items. In dry years, they may become essentially nomadic. After the chicks fledge in mid-summer, the cranes gather in flocks and move to agricultural fields, where grains and other gleanings are abundant.
Migration begins in late summer. The various populations encounter diverse terrain, from sea level to Himalayan mountain passes, during migration. Several populations undertake significant sea crossings (the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean). By early autumn most Demoiselle Cranes have arrived on their wintering grounds. Birds from the Black Sea and Kalmykia populations winter primarily in cultivated fields as well as acacia savannahs, grasslands, and riparian areas in Sudan and other parts of northeastern Africa (Hogg et al. 1984). The wintering birds in India forage in agricultural fields, stubble fields, and riverbeds, and roost in shallow water or on sandbars and mudflats surrounded by water (Gole 1993a).
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Habitat loss and degradation are the main current threats to the Demoiselle Crane. The breeding grounds in the Eurasian steppes—especially those with nearby water sources—are highly attractive for agricultural development, resulting not only in conversion of habitat but increased pressures from grazing, disturbance, poaching, and other human activities. The Black Sea population has declined due to conversion of the steppes, the use of pesticides, and the intensification of agricultural methods (Winter et al. 1995). At the opposite end of the species’ range, in Mongolia, conversion of the steppes has been less extreme, but has begun to have similar impacts on breeding populations (Bold et al. 1995). Although the relationship between farmers and Demoiselle Cranes in many breeding areas of Kazakhstan and Ukraine has improved, changes in agricultural practices (such as spring plowing and increasing use of pesticides) continue to have negative impacts on nesting and feeding behavior.
Many migratory habitats have been lost or altered in recent decades, primarily through the building of dams and the drainage of wetlands (Jan and Ahmad 1995, T. Michev pers. comm.). The wintering grounds in India and Sudan are subject to increasing disturbance as a result of rising human populations. The breeding population in Morocco is threatened by grazing, mining, and disturbance from other human activities (Brahim in press). Pesticides pose a problem in some areas, especially India and Morocco.
Because Demoiselle Cranes can (with adequate protection and the adoption of appropriate farming practices) reproduce successfully in agricultural fields, its demise in the western portion of its historic range likely involved indiscriminate hunting, egg collecting, and other forms of human disturbance. At present, Demoiselle Cranes are hunted most extensively—primarily for sport, but occasionally for food—in Pakistan and Afghanistan (Ferguson 1993, Jan and Ahmad 1995, Landfried et al. 1995). Following traditional hunting practices, the crane hunters in Pakistan station themselves in valleys where the cranes pass on migration and use tame cranes to lure wild birds within range of rock-weighted slings (known as soya). Hunters hurl the soya into the air to entangle the flying cranes. In recent years, increasing numbers of hunters have taken up this traditional practice, while firearms have also been used with greater frequency. The Eurasian Crane and the critically endangered central population of the Siberian Crane are also affected by this practice (Roberts and Landfried 1987; see the Siberian Crane account in this volume). As many as 5000 cranes of all three species (10-15% of the total population of migrating cranes) have been shot or captured in Pakistan in a single season, and the popularity of the sport continues to grow (Ahmad and Shah 1991, Jan and Ahmad 1995).
In areas where they gather in large numbers, Demoiselle Cranes can cause significant crop damage. This is particularly a problem at premigration staging areas in Kazakhstan, during migration through Nepal, and on wintering grounds in Sudan and India. The Demoiselle Cranes stopping in Nepal in the autumn can inflict serious damage to ripened millet and other crops on the small terraced fields that are found where farmland is scarce (R. Suwal pers. comm). In most such problem areas, farmers attempt to drive the cranes off, but do not directly persecute them. In some areas, however, cranes are shot or poisoned (Khachar et al. 1991).
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Legal and Cultural Protection
Demoiselle Cranes are protected by cultural tradition in many portions of its range. In many Islamic areas, they are held in high regard (in part because the Koran mentions Demoiselle Cranes) (Newton in press a). In Mongolia and parts of India they are considered auspicious birds and are protected by local people (Harris 1991b, Gole 1993a).
Formal legal protection is provided in most range countries, including China, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. Beginning in 1984, regulations pertaining to the hunting of cranes were adopted in Pakistan (Jan and Ahmad 1995, Landfried et al. 1995). In 1994, China requested that the government of Nepal restrict the hunting of Demoiselle Cranes in order to assure that the populations in China remain abundant (R. Suwal pers. comm.).
International Agreements and Cooperation
International conservation measures involving the Demoiselle Crane have usually been undertaken in conjunction with activities to benefit other crane species. Current efforts to create an international protected area in the China-Mongolia-Russia border area, for example, are especially important for the White-naped Crane, but also provide important benefits for Demoiselle Cranes due to the predominance of steppe vegetation in the region (Harris 1991b). Similarly, the international campaign to protect the Central population of the Siberian Crane necessarily entails measures that protect the Demoiselle and Eurasian Cranes that share its migration route (Jan and Ahmad 1995, Landfried et al. 1995). Conservationists from Saudi Arabia and five countries in North Africa have identified the priority needs of the Atlas population and the wintering populations in Africa (Newton in press a). Information about Demoiselle Cranes has been exchanged at the international crane conferences convened in India (1983), China (1987), Kazakhstan (1988), Estonia (1989), and Botswana (1993).
Most Demoiselle Cranes are found outside of protected area, but do use many areas throughout their summer and winter range. Within the breeding range, Demoiselle Cranes are found in the Zhalong, Momoge, Xianghai, Keerqin, and Dalainor Nature Reserves in China; Toreiski and Kara-Chingliski Nature Reserves in Russia; the Daurski Reserve in Mongolia; and Kurgaldzhin Nature Reserve in Kazakhstan (Smirenski 1985; Tong 1986; Harris 1986, 1991b, 1992a; Ma and Li 1994). In Pakistan, the Lakki Crane Reserve near the Kuram River is used as a resting area during migration (wild cranes are lured to the area by some 100 captive cranes that are held within a large fenced enclosure). In recent years, only one Demoiselle pair from the Black Sea population has bred within a protected area, at Azov-Sivash National Park in Ukraine (Y. Andryushchenko pers. comm.). In Nepal, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project protects the main flyway of the Demoiselle Crane through the Himalayan massif (R. Suwal pers. comm.).
Habitat Protection and Management
Because most Demoiselle Cranes are found outside of protected areas, the development of habitat protection and management programs are of special importance for the species. In most cases, such programs involve the coordination of agricultural production and crane conservation practices. Thus far, this work has focused on analyzing the factors affecting Demoiselle Cranes in agricultural settings, and identifying methods to reduce negative impacts. Research on the situation has been undertaken mainly in breeding areas in Kazakhstan and Ukraine (Winter et al. 1995, Y. Andryushchenko pers. comm.).
Although no systematic survey of the Demoiselle Crane population has been conducted across the entire species range, smaller scale surveys have been undertaken increasingly in recent years. The Demoiselle Crane in the USSR (Kovshar and Neufeldt 1991) provides information from field surveys in many parts of the Demoiselle Crane’s breeding range. Autumn migrations have been most closely monitored in several key mountain passes of Nepal. Crane Research and Protection in Europe (Prange 1995) contains information on surveys in Ukraine, Georgia, Tuva, the Minusinsk basin, the Altai territory, central Kazakhstan, and central Asia. The wintering populations in India were first surveyed in 1982, and have been counted reliably since 1988 through the Asian Waterfowl Census (AWC), which is organized by the International Waterfowl Research Bureau and the Asian Wetland Bureau (Perennou and Mundkur 1991). The AWC has also provided numbers intermittently from Iran, Pakistan, China, and Nepal.
Ornithologists in Saudi Arabia began to monitor spring migrations of Demoiselle Cranes in 1992, and have endeavored to establish an annual monitoring program (Newton and Symens 1993, Newton in press b). In 1992, the Azov-Black Sea Ornithological Station in Ukraine established “The Virgo Programme” to monitor the Demoiselle Crane and other rare and disappearing bird species of the Ukrainian steppes. Economic and political constraints have hindered the realization of this program, but if carried forward it will provide a foundation for the long-term monitoring of the Black Sea population (Y. Andryushchenko pers. comm.). The Atlas population has not been reliably surveyed in recent years.
Until recently, relatively little research had been undertaken on the Demoiselle Crane. Over the last decade, however, research has expanded rapidly throughout its range. The most extensive collection of information on the species is The Demoiselle Crane in the USSR (Kovshar and Neufeldt 1991), which includes 38 scientific papers on Demoiselle Crane distribution, population numbers, biology, flock movements, and migration patterns from various portions of its main breeding range. Additional scientific papers on Demoiselle Cranes in the former Soviet Union can be found in Cranes in the USSR (Neufeldt 1982), The Palearctic Cranes (Litvinenko and Neufeldt 1988) and Crane Research and Protection in Europe (Prange 1995). Since the mid-1980s, Chinese researchers have also expanded studies of the species (e.g., Gao and Pan 1985, Tong 1986, Ma et al. 1993).
Several recent studies have focused on the species’ breeding ecology (see Kovshar and Neufeldt 1991, Winter 1991, Yang and Tong 1991, Ma M. et al. 1993, Fujita et al. 1994). Research on migration has been undertaken in a number of countries, including China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia (Martens 1971, Gavrilov 1977, Bankovics 1987, Kovshar and Neufeldt 1991, Ahmad and Shah 1991, Newton and Symens 1993, Xu et al. 1995). Landfried et al. (1995) have combined studies of the impact of hunting on migrating cranes in Pakistan with efforts to involve local hunters and conservationists in future crane research.
Scientists at Ukraine’s Azov-Black Sea Ornithological Station have carried out extensive field studies of the Black Sea population over the last decade, providing a foundation for future protection and restoration efforts (Winter 1991, Winter et al. 1995). The breeding populations in the Atlas Mountains and Turkey populations are the least studied. Moroccan researchers have recently tried to locate Demoiselle Cranes near Fez, where over the last decade bird watchers have sighted them in April.
Non-governmental organizations that have been active in various aspects of Demoiselle Crane conservation include the Wild Bird Society of Japan, the International Crane Foundation, the Mongolian Ornithological Society, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, the Ecological Society (India), the Bombay Natural History Society, WWF-India, WWF-Pakistan, the International Center for Conservation Education, and BirdLife International.
Education and Training
The most intensive educational projects involving the Demoiselle Crane have been developed in India and Pakistan (Ahmad and Shah 1995, Landfried et al. 1995). These efforts have been undertaken in connection with the campaign to raise public awareness of the Central population of the Siberian Crane and to counteract heavy crane hunting pressures along the population’s migration route (which Eurasian Cranes from the Central Siberian population also use). Education programs involving Demoiselle Cranes have also been initiated in Ukraine (Winter et al. 1995), Saudi Arabia (Newton in press b), and Nepal (R. Suwal pers. comm.). Demoiselle Cranes are also featured in public education programs in wetland refuges and reserves of Russia and northeast China where they breed.
Captive Propagation and Reintroduction
The GCAR for cranes estimated that 1048 Demoiselle Cranes were in captivity as of 1993. Most are believed to be descended from birds from the eastern populations (Mirande et al. in press a). Demoiselle Cranes breed readily in captivity, and have long been popular in zoos. As a result, a large but unknown number of birds are maintained in the private sector, and unknown lineages are common within the captive population. A small but increasing percentage of the captive Demoiselle Cranes that are held as pets in Pakistan are bred. Captive propagation for conservation purposes has not been necessary, and at present there are no active or planned release programs for the species. However, reintroduction and releases are being considered for areas where the species is extinct or exists in critically low numbers (primarily in the case of the Atlas population).
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A coordinated program is urgently needed to assess the status and conservation needs of the dwindling Atlas population of Demoiselle Cranes. The following measures should receive priority in developing this plan:
A coordinated program to protect the Black Sea population of Demoiselle Cranes should be elaborated and implemented. The following measures should be included as key components of this program.
Little is known about the conservation status or needs of this population. The following steps are recommended to provide the foundation for future conservation efforts.
Legal and Cultural Protection
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