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The world knows 15 different species of Cranes of which four, including the ‘Grey Crowned Crane’, can be found in Africa. Because of its beauty and elegance, this Grey Crowned Crane, also known as ‘Crested Crane’ was chosen as Uganda’s national symbol nearly 100 years ago. It occupies a prime position on the country’s national flag. The Crested Crane belongs to the most cherished birds in the country, which is no wonder since it definitely is an object of great beauty.
The bird is about 100 cm tall and stands on long, slender, black legs. When it walks it is with grace and serenity. Its neck is almost as long as its legs and towards the base, pointed pearl-grey feathers are elongated to form an ornamental fringe.
The tail feathers, comparatively short, have the color of dried straw. When at rest, the Crested Crane seems to be enveloped in a cape of exquisite delicacy with its multi-colored head where the three colors of Uganda’s flag (black, yellow, red) are clearly present. The conspicuous velvety black forehead, yellowish crest and the vivid bright red wattles, make the Crested Crane an elegant bird, absolutely befitting its symbolic role.
Different tribes and people have learnt over the years how to interact with the bird. In many areas the Crested Crane helps to tell people the time of the day through their calls, which can be heard at specific times of the day. In most parts of the country, they are seen as birds of joy and relaxation. It is for example known that, when people clap and sing a particular song, the birds will dance by nodding their heads!
During the days spent in the environment of Lake Bunyonyi, where nature is still pretty pristine, I was amazed to see the beautiful birds on several occasions, always in couples. During a boat tour on the lake I asked Noah Mubangizi, our tour guide, who also studies Environmental Science, what exactly causes the habitat loss of the birds and why they are clearly more seen in that southwestern part of Uganda. Noah explained that Crested Cranes prefer wetlands for breeding and the southwestern part of the country still has many wetlands; in other parts of the country wetlands have been claimed for farming activities. Also, as Noah explained, there are privately owned islands in the lake that are not used for farming, which makes them attractive for the birds to find food.
Unfortunately, despite its serenity, beauty and popularity, the Crested Crane has even become an endangered species. According to statistics, there are currently only about 10,000 to 20,000 of them left in Uganda, where it used to be an estimated 100,000 four decades ago. Habitat loss due to human actions is indeed in huge ways contributing to their declining numbers.
You may also like to read: Much Seen at Lake Bunyonyi: the Weaver Bird, Known For its Love Nest.
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