Blue Cranes on Welgevonden

The end of the year is the time when the blue cranes arrive on Welgevonden and begin looking for breeding sites and pairing off with their mates. The cranes generally start arriving at the end of September and early October and usually stay until sometime in March.

The classical breeding habitat comprises stretches of shallow water, with cover present, surrounded by short grassland. The cranes then find or build an “island” on which the eggs are laid. In Welgevonden the birds also lay eggs on the bare ground in short grassy areas. While one bird incubates the eggs the other bird is usually some distance away and stands watch for any possible danger.

If any danger is seen an alarm call is given and the incubating bird leaves the nest and creeps away in the surrounding cover before standing up some distance away in order to mislead and predator as to the nest location.

There are usually two eggs laid in a nest and these hatch within 30 days. Once the chicks hatch they accompany the parents into the short grass areas where they learn to feed. If they are disturbed here they will immediately lie flat or creep into the closest cover and move away before hiding.

The short grassland is chosen to give the chicks a chance to move around while small and it is more open for the parents to detect predators and or danger. It is also easier to find food which comprises primarily of insects but include small reptiles, grain, fish, etc. The adults and chicks often roost in shallow water in order to evade predators.

Between 3 and 5 pairs nest on Welgevonden with 3 to 4 chicks surviving to leave the reserve. Just before the chicks can fly an attempt is made to ring as many of them as possible as part of an EWT research and monitoring program which is trying to determine where these birds go and if Waterberg population is mixing with other blue crane populations.

At present the Waterberg population is about 70 birds so it therefore very important to learn about the population dynamics. Any sightings of ringed blue cranes (or others) can be reported to the EWT crane working group or to André Burger (andre@welgevonden.org).