At the zoo: On the Nuture Trail, near Primate Panorama
In the wild: aquatic habitats in Russia, China, Mongolia and eastern Japan
At the zoo: specially formulated pellets for cranes, fish and insects
In the wild: Insects, aquatic invertebrates, fish, amphibians, small mammals, reeds, grasses
Pairs of red-crowned cranes are generally monogamous. Chicks stay with their parents until the next breeding season.
Introducing Darla, Denver Zoo’s feathered friend, a red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis). She was hatched on May 12, 1987. Some people consider this species to be a symbol of luck, longevity and fidelity and folklore says that they live for 1,000 years. In actuality, they live 50 to 70 under human care and 20 to 40 in the wild. This is the heaviest species of crane, weighing up to 24 pounds, and they stand about 5 feet tall with a wingspan of up to eight feet.
This species is native to the wetlands of Japan, China, Russia and Korea and its population size is declining. They are endangered with only roughly 1,830 mature individuals. This is the second rarest species of crane. The rarest species of crane is the whooping crane, native to North America, which suffers many of the same threats as the red-crowned cranes. There are around 80 red-crowned cranes in United States zoos. The main threat to the species is loss of the wetland habitat due to conversion to agriculture and industrial development.
Denver Zoo has a successful breeding program including the use of artificial insemination. Darla’s boyfriend Hochi also lives at Denver Zoo and had chicks in the past so hopefully we will have chicks with them in the future.
Darla eats a specially formulated pellet called crane pellets here at the Zoo, in addition to silversides, a type of small schooling fish and insects. In her natural habitat, she might also eat insects, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, grain, aquatic plants and small rodents.
The beauty, visibility, dramatic migrations and striking behaviors of cranes have caused them to inspire wide-spread public support of conservation efforts. They have, in many regions, become an umbrella species that protect the wetlands and the other species that live in those areas.
Cranes have many similarities to humans, which may be a reason many cultures have strong connections to them. Similarities include dancing, walking on two legs (bipedal), ability to make a variety of sounds for communication, use of body language to communicate, similar height, approximate lifespan of humans, form monogamous pair bonds and living in pairs or family groups. The ability to make a variety of sounds (purring, alarm calls and duet calls) is owed to the long trachea that coils within the hollow sternum. Dancing in cranes is one of the most striking behaviors. It includes bowing, stretching, leaping and prancing. You can identify a crane in flight easily due to the body size, trailing long legs and an outstretched long neck. Other similar birds, like herons, will have a “S” curve in their neck while in flight.
You can visit Darla at her home on the Nurture Trail near our Avian Propagation Center, where she can be seen with her mate, Hochi. She is very cold tolerant so she will be visible regardless of finicky Colorado weather.