Cranes are famous for their charismatic defensive displays. With wings outstretched, the dainty birds aggressively stomp towards anything that poses a risk to their nest or territory … no matter how large the threat.
While hosting a live game drive in Kenya’s Maasai Mara recently for WildEarth’s SafariLive, Tayla McCurdy came across a grey crowned crane attempting to intimidate a herd of elephants that had strayed too close to its nest. The elephants were feeding on a field of lush water plants and had little interest in the crane’s eggs, but that didn’t stop the brave bird from launching an all-out defensive manoeuvre.
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“I cannot say for sure if this is a male or female crowned crane, as both [sexes] sit on the nest during breeding season,” McCurdy pointed out. “The elephant seemed rather bemused by the situation and remained curious as to why the bird was flapping its wings.”
Initially, the bird’s alarm calls and displays were enough of a deterrent to keep the young bull elephant at bay, but after a short while, the pachyderm appeared irritated and ushered the crane away with its trunk before wandering off.
Grey crowned cranes typically nest on the fringes of marsh or wetland habitats where they can keep a close eye on their brood. Two to four, light-blue eggs are laid in a nest concealed in tall vegetation which helps keep them hidden from terrestrial predators.
Momentarily satisfied with the success of its defensive strategy, the crane relaxed – until it caught site of an elephant calf en route to the nest.
A minor altercation ensued that ended with a trumpet from the young bull triggering the elephants’ retreat. Perhaps browsing near a disgruntled crane is not worth the trouble.