Best Place to Spot the Blue Crane

Posted by The Cape Country Meander on Monday, June 23, 2014 with 1 comment

Twitchers and visitors in general often ask about the best spots to view the blue crane, South Africa’s national bird. Sadly, there’s nothing national about this beautiful creature because it is officially vulnerable. However, sightings in the Overberg are fairly common nowadays, owing to the efforts of various bodies, most notably the Overberg Crane Group (OCG) and a growing number of local farmers, striving to protect not just the blue crane but also what’s left of the living landscape, which forms part of its habitat.

Blue crane country

While the blue crane is more of a lowveld grassland (short grass) species it has adapted to the Overberg wheat belt. Unfortunately, owing to lack of information and over farming much of its natural habitat has been destroyed. In the 1970s, in particular, excessive cultivation of land, lack of control of pesticides and poisoning resulted in a severe population decline.

Of the approximately 25 000 Blue Crane left in South Africa, more than half are found in the Overberg. Like most species that have no choice but to adapt or die, these incredible birds have adapted to modern farming practices and can be seen right across the Overberg rural landscape.

Blue crane have adapted to modern agricultural practices

Best time of year

If you want to see them in open fields in pairs or with their chicks, then you need to be here in spring to summer. It’s also the time at which you need to be most considerate, by keeping a respectful distance. As summer fades and heads into winter, pairs with their growing offspring join other crane to form groups and can be spotted elegantly prancing and feeding in the fields. As winter progresses, birds become a little less predictable and start moving off in groups according to weather and available food. As they swirl gracefully into the sky their unmistakable high-pitched call, some suggest it’s more of a rattling croak, can be heard some distance away.

Why they need protection

The efforts to save and protect the blue crane and all bird life in the area means nurturing the landscape. Habitat loss is the single biggest through to South Africa’s national treasure. The blue crane as just one species forms an important part of the Overberg ecosystem, which is as diverse as the Amazon. Blue crane are also illegally traded for the domestic pet market and suffer severe injury and death from power line collisions and fence entanglements.

South Africa's national bird under threat

What you can do

Come to the Overberg to see and appreciate for yourself the regional diversity and these beautiful creatures, which, against all odds, have had the tenacity and adaptability to survive. If you spot a dead bird under a power line or suspect poisoning, contact the OCG. If on a nature walk you discover some rogue wire lying about, even if you cannot see a blue crane in the vicinity, pick it up, take it with you and disperse of it in a safe place.

Of the world’s six floral kingdoms, the Overberg is the world’s smallest, richest, and most diverse. Within this, the renosterveld, which forms part of the blue crane’s natural habitat, is the most threatened. Efforts are currently underway to protect the living landscape and local sentiment to do the same is on the increase. Failure to do so could see the blue crane going the same extinction route as the blue buck and the quagga in time to come.