How do cranes use their red crowns?

A crane's red crown is like a "mood meter." The shade of red sends a message to other cranes. When a crane notices an intruder on its territory and wants to appear strong and threatening, its crown fills with more blood. This makes it more brilliant red and a bit swollen. The bumps of swollen crown skin may even look like tiny feathers sticking up. A blazing red crown tells cranes intruding on a whooper's territory to get away fast or prepare to fight!

During migration, cranes often get along with each other and sometimes even move about with other families. They don't claim territories where they're all sharing food. When less blood fills their crown, they can focus on eating without wasting time or energy squabbling, because none of them feel threatened.

We humans sometimes show our own mood by the amount of blood rushing to our faces. We can be "purple with anger," but we also may blush or "turn red" when we're feeling romantic toward another person. Like our faces, cranes' crowns turn red when they're feeling romantic, too! When crane pairs dance together, their crowns both turn quite red.

If you were a crane, how could you tell if another crane's crown was red (1) from territorial anger or (2) from feeling romantic toward you? (That's easy! If that other crane didn't have a mate and was the opposite sex from you, it would very likely be trying to attract your attention. Soon it might even ask you to dance! But if that crane was near its mate while raising its head in a threatening way to look right at you, it would be a good idea to back away or get ready for a battle!

—Laura Erickson, Ornithologist and Journey North Crane Expert

Photo Eva Szyszkoski, ICF.


Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.