Demoiselle Crane (Grus virgo)

Demoiselle Crane

[order] GRUIFORMES | [family] Gruidae | [latin] Grus virgo | [UK] Demoiselle Crane | [FR] Grue demoiselle | [DE] Jungfernkranich | [ES] Grulla Damisela | [NL] Jufferkraan


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Distinctly smaller and more delicately built than Crane, with rather fine and short bill and long drape of feathers over tail (not forming bushy cloak as in Crane). Plumage noticeably loose and silken, with long plumes on head, neck, and over tail; mainly grey, but with wholly slate-black foreneck and brilliant white spray behind eye. Juvenile duller, more ashen, with head and neck pattern little developed.

Listen to the sound of Demoiselle Crane

[audio: Crane.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 155 cm wingspan max.: 180 cm
size min.: 85 cm size max.: 100 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 55 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


Eurasia : Central. The species breeds in the Eurasian steppes from the Black Sea to northeastern China. The main wintering grounds are in India, Sudan, and other portions of eastern Africa to Chad.


The species breeds in the Eurasian steppes from the Black Sea to northeastern China. The main wintering grounds are in India, Sudan, and other portions of eastern Africa to Chad. Demoiselle Cranes are primarily grassland birds, but are usually found within a few hundred meters of rivers, shallow lakes, depressions, or other natural wetlands. If water is available, they will inhabit even semi-deserts and true deserts. Their winter habitats in east-central Africa include acacia savannahs, grasslands, and riparian areas. In India, they feed in agricultural fields and stubble fields, and roost in shallow water or on sandbars and mudflats surrounded by water.


In nesting areas, Demoiselle Cranes prefer patchy vegetation of sufficient height to conceal them and their nests, but short enough to allow them to look out while incubating. Nest sites near the tops of slopes are especially valued. In recent years, as extensive areas of their steppe habitats have been converted to cropland, Demoiselle Cranes have begun to adapt to agricultural fields. This trend has been observed in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and other steppe regions. In Ukraine, the Black Sea population may now preferentially select agricultural fields for breeding sites. Their success in these regions, however, depends upon the extent, type, and timing of local farming practices.

Nests are found on small open patches of grass, cultivated ground, or gravel, and show minimal preparation. Small pebbles and some thin bedding may be gathered together, but eggs are often laid directly on the ground. Usually two eggs are laid. The incubation period is 27-29 days, and the fledging period of 55-65 days is the shortest of any crane.

Feeding habits

Demoiselle Crane families are mobile soon after the chicks hatch. Their diet consists primarily of plant materials, insects, and other small animal foods. During the growing season and along migration routes, they will feed as well on cereal grains, peanuts, beans, and other crops. During the prefledging period, adults and chicks can cover considerable distances in their search for insects and other food items. In dry years, they may become essentially nomadic. After the chicks fledge in mid-summer, the cranes gather in flocks and move to agricultural fields, where grains and other gleanings are abundant.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Grus virgo is a summer visitor to Turkey, Ukraine and southern Russia, with Europe
accounting for less than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding
population is relatively small (<25,000 pairs), but increased between 1970-1990. Although the small population in Turkey declined during 1990-2000, the species was stable in Ukraine and increased in the Russian stronghold, and hence continued to increase overall.
The Demoiselle Crane is the second most abundant of the world’s cranes (only the Sandhill Crane is more numerous). The total population is estimated at 200-240,000, but reliable surveys of the species have been conducted in only limited portions of its range. There are no known subspecies. Six main populations are distinguished here. The three eastern populations-the Eastern Asia, Kazakhstan/Central Asia, and Kalmykia-are abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. The Black Sea population consists of approximately 500 individuals. A disjunct resident population in the Atlas Plateau of northern Africa is believed to include no more than 50 individuals. A small breeding population exists in Turkey.
Demoiselle Crane status Least Concern


Migration begins in late summer. The various populations encounter diverse terrain, from sea level to Himalayan mountain passes, during migration. Several populations undertake significant sea crossings (the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean). By early autumn most Demoiselle Cranes have arrived on their wintering grounds. Birds from the Black Sea and Kalmykia populations winter primarily in cultivated fields as well as acacia savannahs, grasslands, and riparian areas in Sudan and other parts of northeastern Africa. The wintering birds in India forage in agricultural fields, stubble fields, and riverbeds, and roost in shallow water or on sandbars and mudflats surrounded by water.

Main breeding strength lies in northcentral Asia, with major winter quarters in India and Pakistan. Western elements, perhaps most or all of those breeding west of river Volga and Caspian, winter in north-east and north-central Africa. Routes used little known; may at times fly too high for detection and often at night. Seldom seen in Balkans since breeding ceased in Rumania, and only very small numbers of migrants recorded in Turkey, but hundreds pass over Cyprus in autumn, and lesser numbers again in spring. Despite this, rarely recorded in Levant; no records Sinai and seldom seen elsewhere in Egypt, though Sudan, immediately to south, a major wintering area. Regular migrant in large numbers through Saudi Arabia.
Family parties flock late July to early August, with main exodus from FSU during latter month; all but stragglers gone from breeding range by mid-September. Main passage over Cyprus occurs August and early September. Initial arrivals in African winter quarters from early September; present in strength there October-February, when return movement may begin. Main northward passage over Jiddah in second half March, and over Cyprus late March to mid-April. First arrivals south FSU towards end March, though delayed to April in cold springs, and breeding grounds reoccupied during April.

Distribution map

Demoiselle Crane distribution range map

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