A national bird is a symbol of a nation’s rich biodiversity, history, culture and beliefs. It can attain the national symbol status because of the respect, admiration or value attached. Many countries have birds as national symbols. For example: South Africa-Blue Crane, Nigeria-Black crowned crane, China-Red crowned crane, Kenya-Lilac breasted roller, Zimbabwe-African fish eagle, Zambia-African fish eagle, Sudan-Secretary bird, South Sudan-African fish eagle, Namibia-African fish eagle, Malawi-Bar tailed trogon, India-Indian peacock, DRC-Congo peacock, Botswana-Lilac breasted roller, Jamaica-Red billed streamtail (Doctor bird), USA-Bald eagle, Germany-Golden eagle, Egypt-Golden eagle, UAE-Peregrine Falcon, Thailand-Siamese fireback pheasant, Australia-Barn swallow, France-Gallic rooster (Gallus Gallus), Cape Verde-Grey headed king fisher, Gambia-Hamerkop, Papua New Guinea-Raggiana bird of paradise, New Zealand-Kiwi, and UGANDA:
Grey Crowned Crane.
There is a lot about this bird but in today’s hash tag (#TourGuidingUGANDA), am taking you through some interesting dynamics of this specie and its significance as a national bird of Uganda.
In Uganda, Grey crowned crane (commonly known as crested crane), inhabited the country’s wetlands long before the coming of tribes in the area. This bird has an amazing courtship dance which involves twirl and curtsy to one another, with their wings open and held high above their backs. In this strange position with bills pointed skywards, it gives out a deep booming love-call delivered from a fully inflated throat.
To many different tribes of Uganda, the call of the Grey crowned crane suggests many word variations and sounds are varied and full thus; to a Muganda, the call is Ngaali (wano w’aani), to an Achooli, Oweeli, to a Munyarwanda, Muraaho and the same sound/call is Mwaari to Swahiri. Different tribes and people have learnt through time how to interact with this crane and in some areas people believe cranes help to tell them time of the day. They are also regarded as birds of joy and relaxation in some parts of the country. For instance when people clap and sing a particular song, the cranes dace by nodding their heads, making it a wonderful bird.
The unusual gracefulness of this bird, aptly typifying the country and its people, attracted the once British governor of Uganda-Sir Frederick Jackson who in 1893 chose it to embellish the Union Jack with its exquisite form and heraldic dignity. Sir Frederick Jackson was a famous Ornithologist who surrounded himself with beautiful Grey crowned cranes at the government house in entebe which he could feed from his own hands.
In a dispatch from the secretary of state of the British empire to the government of Uganda protectorate, there appears the sentences; “His Majesty (George v) has approved the golden crested crane being likewise adopted as the badge to be inserted on the flags flown by the governor of Uganda protectorate and all the vessels belonging to the government of the protectorate”
Another naturalist, Sir Harry Johnston, deputy commissioner in the Uganda protectorate government at the turn of the country, more than likely influenced sir Frederick in his choice of the crowned crane emblem. As a token of his admiration for the birds of Uganda, Sir Harry left a painting in his collection of a group of “crested crane”. This painting majestically hanged in the governor’s offices. This bird’s multi colored head shows the three coors of the current Uganda’s national flag (Black, yellow,Red). Standing on one leg-on the flag, signifies that Uganda is a country which keeps moving forward.
The Grey Crowned Crane is an endangered specie, it is divided into two sub species; East African grey crowned crane (Balearica Regulorum Gibbericeps) and South African Grey crowned crane (Balearica Regulorum Regulorum) The difference is that East African has a larger area of bare red facial skin above the white patch, and bigger than the South African. Grey crowned cranes and the black crowned cranes are the only crane species that can roost in trees because of the long hind toes (Passerines) that can grasp branches.
Grey crowned cranes are about 1m (3.3ft) tall and weigh 3.5kgs and a wing span of 2m (6.5ft). They fall under crane (Gruidea) family of which Uganda has 3 species, 4 species In Africa and 15 species globally.
According to International Crane Foundation (ICF), the grey crowned crane is the most primitive specie in the family (Gruidae). Primitive species of grey crowned crane date back in the fossil record to the Eocene period. Archaeologists discovered that at least 11 species of grey crowned cranes once existed in Europe and North America. Because they are not cold hardy, it is believed they died out in those areas as the earth cooled and only survived in warmer Africa.
Grey crowned crane is a precocial bird-meaning; chicks are hatched with down feathers, eyes open, the ability to leave the nest within hours of hatching and rapid learning process. Young ones leave the adults in less than a year. They mature and start breeding at 3 years of age in captivity, or 4-5 years in the wild.
Females lay and incubate 2-3 eggs. A male will also incubate, but his primary task is to maintain the integrity of the territory. Incubating pairs trade places about every two hours during day light hours. This gives each bird a chance to stretch, exercise and feed. At night, the female incubates while the male stands guard. The male is often the first to feed the chicks which are hatched after 21-31 days.
They are omnivorous-meaning, they feed on a variety including; plants seeds, grains, insects etc
They are also monogamous and pair for life, though they may appear in flocks at breeding areas. If the mate is lost, the remaining bird will usually find another partner. Their lifespan is 20-30 years in the wild, and more than that in captivity.
In Uganda, their greatest threat is loss of habitat (wetlands) due to human pressure from population, drainage, cultivation, pollution, and other factors. This has resulted into a loss of about 80% of Grey Crowned Crane since 1970s
Reference; International Crane Foundation, Nature Uganda, Buzzle
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By Sekiziyivu Ronald.
The writer is a field guide and travel consultant with Kuamka Tours and Travel