Cranes

Their husbandry and breeding

 

The breeding of cranes

 

How it all started

 

When i first visited a major cranebreeding station in Germany my heart was not on fire for these birds at all! At that time all my interest was on waterfowl from which i kept together with a firend of mine abt. 50 different species!

But after this massive first "cranecontact" I haven´t been able to delete my thoughts abt. cranes out of my mind any more.

After reading an advertisment in the german magazin "Geflügelbörse" abt.  "Demoiselle cranes" for sale, I called there immediately to find out how to keep them and what the price was.

Having got this first information I entered the next bookstore in order to get me some appropriate literature. That was not so easy at that time (beginning of 1990)! I managed to get the book "Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry, and Conservation" from America! Out of this marvelous book I started in the following weeks to complete my little knowledge abt. cranes.

It was in the autumn of the year 1994 when I abolved a trip to several German waterfowlbreeders together with my frien. At the way back I decide spontaneously to call the breeder of the Demoiselle cranes, passed by... and bought a pair (two birds)! The DNA examination showed that I was lucky and really had bought a pair.The male is still with me today and meantime he is father of 10.

From this moment on a new love was borne, I became a cranemaniac.The next cranes where Sarus, White-naped, Blue and Eurasiencranes, which I first kept in three different places, which really didn´t make it easy to look after them. Starting at the year 1998 I began building my new breeding stationge in Alkoven und  transfered step by step all the birds there.

 

The purchase and the pairing of cranes

 

Nowadays it is much easier than some years ago to buy different species of cranes, but and maybe even more there are some golden rules to observe:

 

1.) You better start keeping and breeding cranes with  young birds (depending on the species up to abt. 5 - 7 years of age), because older animals often form pairs very reluctantly or even refuse the new partner at all.

Often older animals are sold, because they have developed some missbehaviour, not forming pairs or start to become extremely, above all normal meassures, agressive against their partner respectively against the human caretaker. If you want to purchase older cranes always have a personal look at them first try to find out as much as possible abt their past and decide only than if you want to buy them.

Of course there are also older cranes which form splende pairs if you bring them together gently and with a lot of care, but unfortunately this is the exception.

 

2.) If possible by only not related birds or at least change one of the partners as soon as possible but before they are getting mature!

 

3.) Take care that your are only buying not pinioned cranes! I  STRICTLY refuse to amputate parts of the wing of cranes!  First of all pinioning is forbidden in the meantime, secondly the fertilisation of eggs by pinioned males is mostly quite bad and thirdly there is always a good chance that the birds get seriously hurt at the place where the amputation took place (if you have to catch them for health checks, transport or if they got scared and running into the fence etc.)

If the alternative is not to buy a pinioned bird and to leave a lonesome crane on his own, I of course recommend the purchase of an amputated bird, because especially with females it is not such a big disadvantage for breeding!

To people which are argueing that not pinioned cranes could fly away, I would like to tell that someone who keeps such rare and precious birds should have also the time, to cut the wingfeathers every few month or years, depending on the species!

 

The  cutting of the wingfeathers can be done in different ways, but should always be done only on one side.

Method 1: You start cutting the outer situated wingfeathers and shorten them with a strong scissor or a wirecutter till abt. 5 cm. The same should be done with the other next located  8 - 10 feathers (with females it can be also more than this).

 

Method 2: As above, but you leave the 2 outer wingfeathers uncut (especially for males this is granting more balance during mating)

 

 

Moltingchart for cranes/wing and tailfeathers

 

 

 

 Species

General moltingbehaviour 

Treatment/cutting

Crowned cranes

Demoiselle cranes

They never loose totally their ability to fly because wingfeathers are molted troughout the whole year!

The cranes have to be watched troughout the whole year and according to the feathergrowth the feathers have to be cut accordingly in a period between some weeks/month.

The most grus species and the blue crane

 Molting abt. every two years

These cranes loose their wingfeathers within few hours/days and than have to be watched for the next weeks to cut their feathers shortly before they reach their ability to fly again.

Sarus and Wattled cranes

 Molting abt. every 3 years

 as above

 

Most of the bodyfeather are changed regularly every year!

 

There are always some exemptions at few cranes from this rule (without that the birds are showing any sign of irregularities or sickness etc.) and I would like to ducument the irregularities which happend to my cranes within the last few years:

At my 2 pairs of Japanese cranes the males change feathers every year whereby the females do this only every two years.

 

My breedingmale of the Black necked crane has not changed the feathers for  3 years, the female changes them every 2 years.

 

My female  Sarus crane has not changed her wingfeathers for 4 years.

 

4.) If you keep cranes it is an advantage to have calm  and friendly birds, which are not panicing whenever small disturbances happen and running into tzhe fences. On the other side  I connot recommend extremly tame birds which are totally imprinted on humans, because there is always a good chance that they have difficulties to let loose from their human partners and jump into a cranepartnership and/or develope an enormous agression against humans after having reached maturity!

 

5.) Always ask for a sexcertificate, because there is no one who can tell with 100%er security the sex of young imature cranes by only looking at them! There might be breeders which are able to give a good prognosis abt. the sex of abolutely same aged birds, but not more!!!

I would only like to point out, that already one day difference in age, from same cranespecies of the same parents can mean a remarkable difference in size, owithout telling anything abt. the sex of the young crane.

The statement that out of 1 clutch (normally 2 eggs) mostly 2 different sexes hatch is pure nonsens. I have rather detected a tendency with my young ones that out of 1 clutch there are more often 2 birds with the same sex than the other way around!

To sort out of a group of young cranes a big and a smaller individuum and to hope to get a pair is like playing in a casino Roulette.

Once cranes are abt 6 month  or older professional crane observers can give a relativly good estimation what the sex is, depending on size and displaying/behaviour pattern, but even here the lucky hit is not more than abt. 70/30.

If cranes start to call with abt. 1,5 to 2 years, almost all experts can tell the sex nearly  100% for sure, but again also here there have been made errors (including me)!

The sexanalysis nowadays is mainly done by DNA analysis either from feather or from blood. I have it exclusivly done at the University of Hannover, by Mrs. Dr. Ina Pfeiffer ( ipfeiff@gwdg.de ), which has enormous experience with cranes and presents ecellent results. There are almost no failures in detecting the sex of a crane any more!

Feathers from adult cranes should always been take freshly from a wing or the tail(take only the big ones). nehmen.                                                                                

Blood can be taken either with a syringe out of an artery, what can normaly done only by very experienced persons, or you can gently clip of abt. 1/3 of a toenail and catch the outcoming blooddrop with a small capillary tube. This method is much simpler than the first one, is less stressfull for the birds, goes only together with minimum pain and can be done already with chickling starting at one week of age. The samples will be forwarded by mail. Testresults are normally submited within one week.

The endoscopic examinations is used less and less, as it is still a small operation and requires an anesthisea  and in my opinion it does not show better results than the DNA analysis.

 

6.) Never buy birds (even if they are very cheap) which show rough feathers, dirty cloaka, which are very skinny or have other major defects. Buy crane chicken only if you have longlasting experience in raising and keeping cranes, because they might react very drastic to a rapid change of place and can get sick or even die!

 

7.) Allow freshly bought animal to adjust to each other slowly and with a lot of space. Cranes are very choosy ajnd restrictiv if a partner is to choose and nothing is more worse than bringing a foreign crane right away into the pen where an other crane lives for quite some time and sees it as his own territory!!!

 

There is the iron rule that always the stronger bird (mostly the male) should go to the weaker one and NEVER the other way arround!!!

 

Hereunder I would like to describe the best methods to familiarize cranes to each other whereby it is clearely stated that it is always easier with young birds than with adult ones:

 

Case 1: You buy two young birds at the same time

It is ideal to have two separate pens side by side (or you can divide an existing one) where you can bring the two new birds in order to get used to themselves, being able to see and hear each other without beeing able to attack each other. There the cranes should remain separated untill you can recognize that they start to get used and like each other. You will find out abt. that when they start to stand side by side on the fence or even more ideal call together ( so they are adult cranes)! Diese Gewöhnungsphase kann wenige Tage, meistens ein paar Wochen oder auch einige Monate dauern!!! In einigen Fällen klappt es nie und es muß ein neuer, anderer Partner her.

If it is not possible to bring together a crane with a partner, even after trying it with several different partners and over a long period, this bird has to be seen as not compatible and has to spend the rest of his live alone!

 

Only if they show positive signs as obove described you can bring the birds together but always under supervision (normally the male to the female), but you still have to be aware that they could attack themselves immediately. You should interfere only if you see that it is really serious and they could harme themselves seriously, but then go in immediately and with energy, separate them again and try  to unite in 1-2 weeks again. If there is only some chasing and pecking just watch how it developes, mostly the birds will calm down within some minutes and start to straighten out their feathers.

Nevertheless you should still watch the animals for the next hours/days from time to time, but normaly than the birds are united successfully.

But... there are sometimes cases where even after hours or days, sometimes even after years one of the birds (again mostl the male) starts attacking its partner, what can end lethaly if you are not present at the right time to interfere.

One of the best ways to avoid this is to build a hide ( tight bushes/thujas etc.) wherin the weeker crane can escape and hide! If the agressive bird does not see the attacked partner any more he will mostly settle down quickly and stop his agression.

 

Case 2: You buy a new bird to pair it with an old, in your pen established birds.

 

In principle it works the same way as described above, whereby it would be better to bring together the cranes in a different pen than the one where your "old" crane is living now.That has the advantage that both birds are on a new unknown territory, where non of them has "old rights"!

 

Case 3: You buy  a prooven pair

 

Here you have to watch only if the animals are adjusting well to the new pen. If small fights araise, it is normally only due to a high stresslevel which occures from the transport and this misbeaviour ends mostly quite soon after the birds have relaxed!

 

Generally you have to seccure that newly brought in birds will find food and water and offer them at the beginning 2 or 3 different places where they can eat and drink, because newly paired cranes tend to chase away their partner from food because of greediness. 

 

When do I have a pair ready for breeding

 

The best sign that you have a real pair is when thy start the Unison Calls and are dancing together. The more exact the Unison Call starts and ends and the more they bring it (especially in springtime before and during the breeding season) the better the pair bondage is.

If cranes have formed a pair bond it normally lasts a life long and cranes live very long! There are cranepairs known which have lived up to 70. years  and longer and even still had chicks at that age. Cranekeepers therefore should alwys have in mind that cranes have a great longevity and they stay with you probably for your whole life.

Male cranes reach maturity at the age of abt. 2 - 3 years and start producing sperms than (I have had healthy offsprings from a 2 years old white naped crane). Females normally start laying at the age of  4 - 6 years. There is a strong connection to suitable pens, when they have hatched and how they have been raised (early hatched chicks reach often maturity earlier than chicken hatched late in a year).

A certain sign that cranes formed a pairbond is if they mate.  This happens often after having danced and having performed the unison call, than the female starts to perform a kind of gobbling. Additionally she stands still and spreads the wings and invides the male to jump on her back.

Experienced males normally accept this invitation quickly, jump with a rapid flap of their wings on the females back, press their cloaka on the one of their partner and deliver their sperm into it. This procedure takes only some seconds and ends, once the male has jumped off the females back, with an unison call!

 

Natural fertilisation/artificial fertilisation

 

The ideal case is that the crane male is fertilizing each egg on its own, which is not always the case with cranes kept in captivity (and partly also not with wild birds).

The days before the female lays the eggs (normally 2) they mate frequently. Even if you are not able to watch the mating you can guess it by looking at the feathers on the back of the female which are than often dirty and/or disordered.

 

I disagree with the common opinion (out of my own painfull experience/see the following true report), that cranes have to mate each time before the hen lays, to have fertile eggs.

Factual report: On 13.5.05 during a strong storm, I lostmy very experienced 17 year old breedingmale of the white naped crane (it got killed by a thick branch coming down from an old oak). The female called the next few days day and night for him, but nevertheless completed the nest which they had started to build together before the male got killed (it was the 3. clutch in this year). On the afternoon of the 15.5.05 i found an egg in the nest and the female started breeding immediately, on the 18.5.06 a second one followed. When I discovered a third egg in the nest on the 24.5.05 the surprise was perfect. I had marked the eggs in the order of laying, but had little hope that they were fertile. The female has been breeding on the 3 eggs for abt. 2 weeks already all alone when I realized that the breedingbreaks started to get longer and longer and sie show signs of that she does not want to continue breeding. I transfered the 3 eggs into an icubator and to my total surprise out of the first 2 eggs 2 healthy chicken hatched, which later turned out o be two males. The 3 egg was unfertile!

These eggs have been fertilized more then 2 and 5 days after the sudden death of the male, which shows to me clearly, that also female cranes can store sperms in their body for some time (as also ducks do)

 

The most reasons for unfetile eggs with cranes are as follows:

 

1.) The male is pinioned   and is not able to keep the balance during mating and to deliver his sperm into the cloaca of the female. There are only 3 possibilities to overcome this problem:

a.) You cut the outer 3-4 wingfeathers of the jmale on the wing which is NOT pinioned, to improove the balance during mating and wait what the next years will bring. Many pinioned males practice and learn troughout the years the technic of successfull mating and so than will be able to produce fertile eggs also they are somehow disabled!

b.) You use artificial insemination. This method of course needs a lot of experience and can be done normally only by experts.

c.) You are exchanging the pinioned male against a non pinioned one, whereby there is always the danger that the female does not accept the new partner.

 

2.) If the feathers are cut back to much. In this case you have to pull out some of the cut feathers and they will grow again within some weeks or you just wait until the next molt, cut less feathers and hope that there is a success this time.

 

3.) The birds (especially the males) are too young  and unexperienced. That is one of the main reasons for unfertile eggs (especially if is is the first time to breed) and here is the timefactor the only workable tool to solve the problem. Give your cranes time and peace to improove their matingtechnics, and very often it is working in the next breedingseason. 

 

4.) The male is infertile at all because of a desease or an injury. This reason can only be detected by an experienced veterinarian using endoscopic surgery or examin the sperm. Ist eine dauernde Unfruchtbarkeit bei einem der Partner diagnostiziert worden bleibt nur, die Tiere weiterhin als Paar zu halten (ohne Hoffnung auf Nachzucht) oder das betreffende Tier auszutauschen (siehe Punkt 1c.)

 

5.) Die Tiere harmonieren nicht und dulden sich nur, bilden aber kein richtiges Paar, womit auch der Hahn nich tritt oder die Henne sich nicht tretenläßt. Hier ist eine Neuverpaarung eigentlich die einzige Möglichkeit noch zu einem Zuchterfolg zu kommen, wobei es unter Umständen sein kann, daß Tiere dabei sind die sich nie mit anderen Kranichen verpaaren und damit für die natürliche Zucht ausfallen. Sind das Weibchen die aufgrund ihrer starken Menschenprägung trotzdem legen, können sie künstlich befruchtet werden bzw. kann unverpaarbaren Männchen Samen für eine künstliche Befruchtung abgenommen werden.

 

Speziell darauf hinweisen möchte ich, daß bei der Kranichzucht Geduld eine sehr große Rolle spielt!!! Es kann durchaus öfter vorkommen daß Paare die viele Jahre lang trotz idealer Haltungsbedingungen keine befruchteten Eier gelegt haben, ohne ersichtlichen Grund plötzlich Junge zeugen und das auch dann viele Jahre in Folge tun. 

Preparation for the breeding season

 

Depending on the weather and the cranespecies you can expect the first clutches starting from the middle of March , whereby older, long paired birds generally earlier start and (if you remove the eggs) also lay more eggs than younger cranes.

 

Yearly breedingchart for all cranespecies

 

 

Cranespecies 

Average beginning of laying eggs 

Average end of laying eggs(if multiple clutches!!!) 

 Wattled cranes *

 December/January

 April

 Blue crane

 Middle of May

 Middle of July

 Demoiselle crane

 Middle of March

 End of May

 Grey crowned crane

 Beginning of June

 Middle of September

 Black crowned crane

 Beginning of June

 Middle of September

 White naped crane

 Middle of March

 Middle of June

 Black necked crane

 Beginning of May

 Beginning of July

 Japanese crane

 Middle of April

 Beginning of June

 Sandhill crane

 End of April

 Beginning of June

 Eurasien crane

 Middle of April

 Middle of June

 Hooded crane **

 Beginning of May

 Beginning of June

 Siberian crane **

 Beginning of April

 End of May

 Sarus crane

 Beginning of May

 Beginning of September

 Brolga crane

 Middle of May

 Beginning of September

 Whooping crane **

 Beginning of April

 End of May

* after strong rainfalls also around the whole year!                                        

** depending stongly on the duration of daylight at the place where the cranes are kept!

 

Ältere, erfahrene und schon lange in einem Gehege eingewöhnte Tier brüten zumeist jedes Jahr immer wieder am selben Ort.

Etliche Tage vor dem Legebeginn beginnen die meisten Paare (mit Ausnahme von Jungfern und Paradieskranichen, die nur wenige kleine Steinchen oder Hölzchen zusammentragen, die kaum als Nest erkennbar sind)  am Neststandort kleine Zweige, Gräser und anderes Nistmaterial zu sammeln. Meistens zeigt eines der beiden Elterntiere schon vorher den Nistplatz dadurch an, daß es mit gurrenden Lauten mit dem Schnabel auf die bevorzugte Stelle zeigt und sich auch dort kurz niederläßt.

Das ist der Zeitpunkt wo ich ihnen einen viertel Ballen Stroh an diese Stelle werfe. Dieser wird meistens innerhalb der nächsten Stunden zerteilt und daraus ein Nest geformt.

Einige Tage später kommt es dann zur Eiablage (manchmal kann man einen kleinen Katzenbuckel beim Weibchen erkennen, der die nahe Eiablage signalisiert). Erschrecken sie nicht wenn sie das Kranichweibchen eines Tages auf den Fußgelenken knieend, leise kollernd und stöhnend am Nest sehen, denn dann legt es gerade. Das Ei wird teilweise im Liegen bzw. im Hocken ausgestoßen (wo es schon einige Zentimeter nach unten fallen kann). Gelegt wird im Abstand von ca. 2-3 Tagen,  meist in den Morgenstunden und bebrütet wird das erste Ei dann ab den Abendstunden. Bis auf Klunker und Kronenkraniche ( jeweils 1 Ei bzw. 3-4 Eier) legen alle Kranicharten in der Regel 2 Eier pro Gelege.

Entfernt man das Erstgelege erhält man je nach Art bis zu 4 Nachgelege, wobei es nicht anzuraten ist die Tier 5 Mal legen zu lassen, denn das kann das Weibchen schon erschöpfen. 3 Gelege pro Weibchen und Jahr halte ich für absolut vertretbar wobei es keine wissenschaftlichen Beweise dafür gibt, daß mehrere Gelege pro Jahr eine negative Auswirkung auf die Gesundheit und Lebensdauer der Tiere haben. Was zu beobachten ist, ist das die später gelegten Eier durchschnittlich ein etwas geringeres Gewicht aufweisen, ohne aber meßbar schlechtere Schlupfraten aufzuweisen!

Ich lasse die Kraniche IMMER mindestens 8 Tage lang selbst die Eier bebrüten, bevor ich sie in den Brutapparat verbringe. Das aus zwei Gründen; Erstens um die weiblichen Tiere nicht zu "Legehennen" zu degradieren und zweitens ist die Schlupfrate nahezu 100 Prozent wenn die Eier die erste Woche in Naturbrut bebrütet worden sind. Werden Kranicheier vom ersten Tag in den Brutapparat gegeben ist die Schlupfrate deutlich geringer, sofern nicht der exakte Gewichtsverlust der Eier gemessen wird.

Die Hauptlast des Brutgeschehens trägt das Weibchen, wobei viele Männchen die Bebrütung übernehmen, wenn das Weibchen das Nest verläßt um zu trinken und zu fressen und Kot abzusetzen.Manche Kranichmänner gehen dann so ungern vom Nest das sie richiggehend von der Henne vertrieben werden müssen.

Ich lasse bei bewährten Brutpaaren jedes Jahr das letzte Gelege komplett den Kranichen ausbrüten und oftmals die Jungen selbst aufziehen, wobei anzumerken ist, daß bei dieser Aufzuchtmethode bedeutend mehr Ausfälle durch Raubzeugfraß, Krankheiten, Schlechtwetter, Parasiten, Unterversorgung durch die Eltern wegen Störungen etc.vorkommen. Besser ist es nur ein Junges bei den Eltern zu belassen, denn dann können sie ihre ganze Aufmerksamkeit dem kleinen "Wonneproppen" widmen und die Chancen das er hochkommt sind viel besser.

Fakt ist einfach daß es kaum etwas Schöneres gibt als einem eingespielten Kranichpaar zuzusehen, wie es seine Jungen aufzieht. Es ist regelrecht beglückend die Hingabe zu beobachten mit der ein Futterbrocken ein gutes dutzend Male gereicht wird bis ihn die Kleinen endlich hinunterschlingen.

Ganz wichtig bei der Naturbrut und Elternaufzucht von Kranichen ist ein besonderes Augenmerk auf den Gesundheitszustand der Jungen zu legen und hier wiederrum sind es speziell Luftröhrenwürmer die den Kleinen zu schaffen machen. Ich habe die Erfahrung gemacht das selbst in sehr großen, frisch besetzten Anlagen Jungkraniche kaum überleben wenn nicht konsequent entwurmt wird. Schon im Alter von ca. 2 Wochen kann man oft ein Pfeifen und ein Niesen bei den Küken hören (soweit man halbwegs nahekommen kann) und wenn man dann nicht schnell eingreift sind die Tiere innerhalb weniger Tage tot (erstickt). In meiner Anlage werden Küken die auf Naturboden laufen (egal ob Naturbrut oder händisch aufgezogene Tiere) ca. alle 2-4 Wochen entwurmt, aber allerspätestens sobald ich das leiseste Niesen höre!

Alttiere entwurme ich 2 mal jährlich, nämlich im Jänner/Februar und im Oktober/November oder nach Bedarf wenn mir ein Niesen/Würgen und/oder ein damit verbundenes, fortwährendes Kopfschütteln auffällt.

Alttiere sind bei weitem nicht so empfindlich gegen den Syngamus (Luftröhrenwurm) wie Junge!

 

Zum Entwurmen verwende ich das 2,5 %e Wurmmittel Panacur (für Ziegen, Schafe etc.). Die Dosierung ist wie folgt:

 

1 Millilieter 2,5 %es Panacur pro 1 Kg Körpergewicht (oder 10 %es Panacur

 wobei dann die Dosierung 0,250 ML pro 1 KG Gewicht ist).

 

Verabreicht wird es oral! Ich ziehe das Mittel in eine 5ML Spritze (natürlich ohne Nadel) auf und schiebe sie tief in den Rachen (fast bis zum Spritzenende) und spritze es ein. Hier muß man sorgsam mit dem Tier umgehen um es erstens nicht im Rachenbereich zu verletzen bzw. um das Mittel nicht in die Luftröhre (ACHTUNG Erstickungsgefahr) sondern in den Schlund zu verabreichen. Ich selbst erledige diesen Vorgang alleine, aber für ungeübte Personen ist es ein MUSS diesen Vorgang unter Hinzuziehung einer 2. Person zu erledigen, wobei einer den Kranich zwischen seinen Füßen fixiert (Kopf nach vorne) und der 2.das Mittel eingibt. Jungtiere sind natürlich viel leichter handhabbar als Alttiere. Überdosierungen sind  - wenn die oben genannte Menge nicht grob fahrlässig überschritten wird - kaum möglich, da die Vögel nach dem Entwurmen meistens ohnehin sofort Wasser aufnehmen und die Dosierung daduch erheblich verwässert wird.