“No visit to East Hokkaido would be complete without watching the iconic and endangered Red-crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis). In Japan, the Tancho or Red-crowned Crane (丹頂鶴) is considered a mystical creature that lives for a thousand years and hence represents long life and happiness.
“The long process, of rescuing this bird from the brink of extinction in the 1920s (population less than 50), to the present population of more than 1,000 birds in Hokkaido gives much hope to conservation elsewhere.
“Red-crowned Cranes are one of the world’s largest birds and can reach 10-15kg in weight, 1.5 meters in height and a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters.
“We saw quite a number, some with chicks and others with juveniles, just adjacent to Takeyoshi-san and Masako-san home at Minshuku Furen and further afield. I have a number of posts on these and will start with chicks. All 4 images above are of a family unit adjacent to our place of stay.
“Red-crowned Cranes are monogamous and often remain together for many years or until one dies. The female often lays 2 eggs but usually only one chick lives due to predation. Takeyoshi-san mentioned that this family had two chicks but one has since died. The young bird has enormous feet, akin to dinosaurs (see 4th of the above images). Chicks can apparently swim better than adults, but may also be carried on the parents back when younger.
“The chick follows the parents around to be fed. One parent (presumed male) often assumes the role of ‘watchman’ and is often erect, looking around for danger (above, which shows an alert adult, here with food for chick in the beak).
“In Japan humans are tolerated and generally not considered a major threat. Food is given directly to the chick or identified on the ground for the chick to take (above, below).
“The food is held in the tip of the beak and then thrown back to be swallowed. I observed mainly what looked like grain (or perhaps invertebrates picked up in the grass) and beetles fed to the young. A short video of feeding behaviour, which also show the alert, sentinel behaviour is shown below.
Winter Feeding Stations & Parks Protecting Bird year Round
“Hokkaido is well known to use feeding stations in winter for birds to encourage survival and also a number of established protection sites/parks. We visited one of these parks – Kushiro City Red-crowned Crane Natural Park. There were a number of adult birds located at the site and easy to watch. Here birds are provided corn, cereal grains and fish (below).
“There are studies that show that seafood, in particular crabs, form a sizeable part of their diet. I am unsure if these parks have a long-term negative impact. We saw crows and raptors hanging around to steal food and this appeared to frighten adult cranes. We did not see any chicks or juveniles at this site.
“There has also been concern expressed about winter feeding, that it may ‘impair self-sustaining in the wilderness’ (see: Kuo, Yi-Liang. Unexpected Side-effects of Winter Feeding: Learning from Mahalanobis Distances Factor Analysis in the case of Red-crowned Cranes in Hokkaido, Japan. (2010). International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software. 114). While at the park we saw one adult with deformed beak (above, below).
“The proximity to the birds did allow for better observation of plumage and features (and does support public opinion about conservation). The red crown deceptively looks like feathers from afar, but a close up shows that is a skin patch (see composite below).
“Finally, a few addition observations: The image below shows an adult bird in flight.
“The image below shows an older juvenile (possibly best called immature) with a partial red crown and the black in the neck not yet well developed.
“Below is an adult in sleep posture – resting on the ground and beak pulled in.
“Finally, a sonogram and waveform of the adult warning or ‘guard’ call which is very loud and said to be heard kilometers away.
“An audio recordings of the call can be heard HERE.”
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
4-10th June 2019
Location: Nemuro Peninsula & Kushiro City Red-crowned Crane Natural Park, East Hokkaido, Japan