It occurs in dry savannah in Africa south of the Sahara, although in nests in somewhat wetter habitats. There are two races, B. p. pavonina in the west, and the more numerous B. p. ceciliae in east Africa.
This species and the closely related Grey-crowned Crane, P. regulorum, which prefers wetter habitats for foraging, are the only cranes that can nest in trees. This habit, amongst other things, is a reason why the relatively small Balearica cranes are believed to closely resemble the ancestral members of the Gruidae.
Like all cranes, The Black-crowned Crane eats insects, reptiles, and other small mammals. It is endangered, especially in the west, by habitat loss and degradation.