The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea), also known as the Stanley Crane and the Paradise Crane, is the national bird of South Africa. It is a tall, ground-dwelling bird of the crane family which stands a little over a metre high and is pale blue-gray in colour with a white crown, a pink bill, and long, dark dark gray wingtip feathers which trail to the ground.
Blue Cranes are birds of the dry, grassy uplands which feed on seeds and insects and spend little time in wetlands. They are altitudinal migrants, generally nesting in the upper grasslands and moving down to lower altitudes for winter. Many occupy agricultural areas.
Of the 15 species of crane, the Blue Crane has the most restricted distribution of all. While it remains common in parts of its historic range, and between 10,000 and 20,000 birds remain, it began a sudden population decline from around 1980 and is now classified as critically endangered.
In the last two decades, the Blue Crane has largely disappeared from the Transkei, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The population in eastern Cape Province, Natal, Transvaal and northern Orange Free State has declined by up to 90%. The majority of the remaining population is in eastern and southern South Africa, with a small and separate population in the Etosha Pan of northern Namibia. Occasionaly, isolated breeding pairs are found in five neighboring countries.
The primary causes of the sudden decline of the Blue Crane are human population growth, the conversion of grasslands into commercial tree plantations, and poisoning: deliberate (to protect crops) or accidental (baits intended for other species, and as a side-effect of crop dusting.
The South African government has stepped up legal protection for the Blue Crane. Other conservation measures are focussing on research, habitat management, education, and recruiting the help of private landowners.