The Waterberg supports a small but extremely important population of blue cranes. This population has fluctuated between 40 and 70 birds over the last 3 years, depending on the previous season’s breeding success.
There are 16 known breeding pairs in the Waterberg population, five of which are known to occur on Welgevonden. This makes Welgevonden an important role player in the conservation of the Waterberg blue crane population and it is critical that the habitat requirements of the cranes receive priority management attention. On Welgevonden, the cranes favour the open southern grasslands.
Each year, reserve management in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism undertakes a survey to check the known blue crane nests on the reserve and also to look for new nests. The coordinates of nests are recorded, any eggs are weighed and an assessment of prevailing habitat conditions is conducted. A follow-up visit is then conducted to locate juvenile birds, which are then caught and ringed with brightly coloured rings just above the knee as part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Waterberg blue crane monitoring project.
Blue cranes can only be successfully captured just before they are able to fly, usually at 6-8 weeks of age. When running towards them, the juveniles tend to hide in the grass, which can make finding them extremely difficult. Once the birds are found, they are caught by hand, blindfolded, weighed and measured, ringed and released as quickly as possible.
Thirteen birds have been ringed on Welgevonden in the last 3 years. Unfortunately these ringed birds have only been seen in the first year after ringing following which their movements are unknown.
It is therefore important to report any sightings of blue cranes, in particular birds with rings, as only one report may provide the clue necessary to discover what happens to these cranes or where they are moving after their first year.