Culture Hokkaido Wildlife

Japanese Crane (Red-crowned Crane) in Hokkaido

Japanese crane or Tancho is a graceful endangered bird, mostly found in Hokkaido region, Japan. In many countries Japanese cranes are also known as Red-crowned cranes while Manchurian people recognize it as Manchurian crane as well.

Are you curious why it is called as red-crowned crane? It is seen that an adult crane forehead and crown are covered with a red skin.

Japanese Cranes
Japanese Cranes. Photo credit: Alastair Rae at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing

People of Japan thought that this bird had disappeared in the 20th century but it was not true at all. They are still existed in Japan, mostly on the island of Hokkaido. There are more than 2,000 red-crowned cranes are existed all over the world and half of them are found in Japan.

In Japan, they symbolize longevity, good luck and happiness. However, the main objective of writing this article is to send a message to all of you that “we must save them.”

Range & Habitat: Where do Japanese Cranes Live At?

You can’t find them in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or Okinawa Island but only in the second largest island of Japan called Hokkaido in Kushiro city

The weather of Hokkaido is quite favorable for them because comparing to other parts of Japan the temperature there remains a bit cold even when it is summer. In winter, you will see a lot of snowfalls and frozen seas over there. So, Hokkaido is the heaven for these cranes, no doubt that they like to grow up in a cold weather.

There are only three species of cranes that have white primary feathers and red-crowed crane is one of them. For feeding they prefer deeper water and pastureland. During winter season they find foods in coastal salt marshes, freshwater marshes, rice paddies, and cultivated fields.

These birds prefer marshes, reed swamps, and wet meadows when they build nest. One research shows that only for agricultural development a large amount of habitat has been lost so far.

These cranes feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates and small vertebrate. This species is not an Herbivorous. Apart from this there are other foods they like to eat such as: Earthworms, Small crabs, Insects, Plant seeds, Corns, Reeds, Rodents and so on.

I should inform you that there are some artificial feeding stations located in Hokkaido, from where local people feed the red-crowned cranes in winter season.

Are Japanese Cranes Migratory Birds?

Red-crowned Crane in Japan
Two Japanese Cranes. Photo credit: Alastair Rae at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing

Generally, Japanese cranes (red crowned crane) are non migratory that live in Hokkaido region all year round. On the other hand, red crowned cranes that are seen in Russia, China and Korea, they are all said to be migratory.

These migratory cranes have to move from one place to other for the weather change as well as for their breeding season.

As Hokkaido is seen to be the most safest place for this species of bird where the weather is quite favorable for them to grow up, Japanese cranes don’t think of moving from this place to other places.

Cultural Impact & The Japanese Cranes

Japanese Hand Fan
A Beautiful Japanese Hand Painted Hand Fan

Japanese cranes have a huge impact on Japanese culture. I don’t know if you ever have noticed that the logo of Japan Airlines is a Japanese Crane. Though, it appear in many form of arts such as on paintings, hand fan, even on folktale!

I do have a favorite Japanese legends which is called Tsuru no Ongaeshi. You can read this folktale here.

It is said that there is an indigenous community group that traditionally performs crane dance in Hokkaido. Do you like the handcrafted Japanese crane themed hand fan shown above? Learn more here

There is a classic book called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes where a young ill girl wishes to make 1000 paper cranes so that she get cured from her disease.

Life Style & Behavior

I wish if I could have a pair of wings just like a red-crowned crane has so that I could fly. Red-crowned cranes are graceful birds. They are beautiful with bare red skin on head.

It seems like they all have crowns. During mating season the red skin becomes very brighter. I did not know this fact until I found it from a book.

They have normal life style, not furious birds like eagles. In Japan, they are not migratory birds but in China, Korea, and Siberia (Russia) they are seen as migratory species of birds. Their food habit varies from time to time as they move from one place to another place.

As far as I know they eat small crabs, small fishes, and earthworms during the season of fall in South Korea but during winter season they usually find foods from paddy fields. Every animal tries to defend their own nesting territory so a mated pairs of red-crowned cranes also follow this rule. Not only animal but we do the same as well.

Their chicks look very cute and they stay with their parents until they become matures enough and find foods for themselves.

What if I tell you an important unusual unique animal fact of red-crowned cranes? Male and female cranes live together as couple until one dies. Don’t you think it is unique for animal species?

An adult female red-crowned crane breeds in many places such as in sedge marshes, aquaculture ponds, wetlands, grass, reed, and wet grasslands. Their life span is unknown to me but there is an average life span I know that is 20 to 40 years. Wow this creature live for so long! It is great.

Characteristics of Japanese Crane (Red-crowned Crane)

Japanese Cranes! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

An adult Japanese crane’s forehead is covered with a red skin. The feather color of a mature crane is white and black. It is an omnivorous bird that’s why it eats only insects, small crabs, corns, and earthworms. Because of their size they can’t fly faster than other species of cranes.

The average weight of an adult crane could vary from 5 to 12 Kg. These are the key characteristics of this aquatic bird. Though the following facts will let you understand this crane well:

1. Red-crowned crane is omnivorous

2. It usually lives in wetland and marshland areas

3. It is a large east Asian crane with black lower wings

4. It is found only in East Asian region

5. There is a bare red skin on the forehead and crown on a adult red-crowned crane

6. It has two major color of feathers – white and black

7. A male red-crowed crane is the lifelong partner of a female crane

8. It eyes, neck, face and legs are totally black

9. Red-crowed cranes can’t fly faster like other cranes because of their size

10. A male red-crowned crane is a bit larger than female crane

11. Usually, a red-crowned crane weights 5 to 12 kg

12. Average lifespan of red-crowned crane is 20 to 40 years old

13. Red-crowned crane’s wingspan is 2.5 meters long

14. An adult red-crowned crane average height is 158 cm

Major Threats of Japanese Crane

Even though red-crowned cranes seem to us protected in Japan. But what is the real picture of this crane outside Japan? Their living places are decreasing day after day as a result they are now endangered. On the other hand our population is growing rapidly.

One of the core threats of decreasing wetland could be increasing numbers of agricultural lands. Don’t you think so? We need foods; each and every year our farmers grow huge amount of paddy and other crops to fulfill our food demand.

To fulfill our food demand we are snatching red-crowed cranes’ living areas, that I mean the wetlands and marshlands. Now people turn marshlands into a paddy field or agricultural lands. We must stop it.

There are other very important factors that are destroying our cranes, these are: deforestation, river channelization, road building, dams, house building, and all year harvesting system.

We all are doing these for having a better life but have you ever thought that some animals are the real victim of that? Wetlands are turning into drier because of global warming. Those breeding wetlands areas are getting poisoned from pesticide-treated grain.

There are hunters who like bird hunting. At the beginning of the 20th century in Japan, many hunters used to hunt this beautiful crane. Although, human are not only the predators of this graceful bird but also others such as carnivores animals, raven, wolfs, dogs, crows, snakes that eat their eggs from nest. Actually, we (human) are the main criminal, not the environment.

We can change our planet and make a beautiful world where every living creature could live happily and peacefully.

Breeding Season Time & Reproduction

Japanese Crane Courtship Dance, Hokkaido. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

They like living in a marshland/wetland area and during breeding season they have to depend on this. Kushiro marshland area is the best place for their reproduction.

Their breeding season usually begins from April to May. There is a dance called courtship dance performed by a male and female cranes during the time of courtship.

During courtship or pair bonding time both male and female cranes dance and call elaborately. Every tourist wishes to see this delightful courtship dance! Don’t you wish to see that? I have found a nice video of Japanese cranes courtship dance, check it out here.

Before breeding season comes they usually start building their nests. Their nests are built on wet ground. It takes at least a week to build a nest for them. Both male and female cranes collect leaves, dried flowers, and grasses to build a nest.

A female red-crowned crane lays only 2 eggs per year. I think it is not enough since they are endangered. Eggs colors could be white, pigmented, and a bit darker.

Incubation process takes 29-34 days; both male and female do this action. Usually, a female red-crowned crane broods at night. From two eggs, first one hatches 2-5 days before the second egg.

Their chicks are very adorable to look at and when they become 2-3 days older they can easily swim in the river. After 3-4 years, a young red-crowned crane becomes sexually mature and finds a life partner thereafter.

Red Crowned Crane Conservation in Japan

Japan is one of the bio-diverse countries on earth. It is blessed with nature. There are some endangered species of animal which are being taken care of by the Japanese people across Japan.

To see wild Japanese red crowned cranes you have got to come here in Hokkaido but they are also seen in several zoos located outside Hokkaido. You will be happy to know that in Japan, a number of Japanese cranes have increased.

The federal government of Japan in Hokkaido is trying to protect this beautiful crane from danger. If you go to Hokkaido to see red-crowned crane you would be seeing that local people over there feed them off and on. There are more than 1,000 birds are living happily in Hokkaido island.

There is a private organization called Wild Bird Society of Japan that plays an important role for saving these species of cranes in Hokkaido. It was established in 1934 with the aim of providing a safe environment for the cranes.

You can do some volunteering activities by becoming a member of the society. It establishes wild bird protection areas, restorations of the cranes, conservation of the cranes making natural feeding grounds in winter.

There is an educational program called Tancho Teachers’ Guide made by WBSJ where you will be educated about the cranes. It has started researching on red-crowned crane’s habitat, ecology and life span. Please, let’s do something for them and see whether we can contribute something for saving these birds.

Japanese Government – “Thanks for Saving the Lives of These Endangered Cranes”

Flying Crane in Hokkido. Photo credit: Alastair Rae at Flickr through Creative Commons licensing

Do you know that in 1926 only about 20 Japanese cranes were discovered in the city Kushiro? There are approximately 2000 Japanese cranes existed all over the world and 1000 of them are living in Hokkaido region. There is good news that their population is growing day by day.

The government of Japan has taken many actions to save these graceful birds. There are several feeding stations located in different area for winter season. As a result, they don’t starve. Also local people in Hokkaido and tourists feed them up off and on when they visit them.

You can donate some money to save these cranes here at International Crane Foundation.

Where to See Japanese Crane in Hokkaido?

Where are the Japanese cranes in Hokkaido? The best place to see red-crowned in Akan National Park and its nearby areas such as Tsurui village, Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland, Akan International Crane Centre & Tancho Observation Centre, Otowa Bridge, and Tsuruimidai.

Therefore, whenever you visit Hokkaido never ever forget to see beautiful Japanese cranes. Your trip would be memorable seeing the nature and wildlife of Hokkaido.

To know more about Japanese cranes I could recommend the following books:

1) The Japanese Crane

2) Cranes: A Natural History of a Bird in Crisis

Saving engender species of bird is a big challenge for us. I think, we must rise social awareness to save them from the danger they are moving into. Please, don’t hunt birds anymore rather find the ways to save them and built a place for them.

If possible then share this page with your friends and relatives and let them know about this beautiful creature.