The Grey Crowned Crane with its eye-catching “hairstyle” must be one of the most easily identifiable birds in South Africa. Their Afrikaans name, Mahem, is a good imitation of their call. They stand about 1m high and weigh roughly 3.5kg.
Grey Crowned Cranes can be found in or near wetlands and flooded grasslands, and is one of the few crane species that will perch in trees. Their diet is omnivorous, ranging from grass-seeds and grains to insects, crabs and small vertebrates. Pairs are territorial during the nesting season, which stretches over the wetter seasons in South Africa. Nests are platforms built from grass and sedges in waterlogged areas. Courtship includes elaborate dances involving jumping and bowing. Two to five eggs are incubated for four weeks, and the precocial chicks fledge within 100 days of hatching. Outside the breeding season Grey Crowned Cranes flock and roost communally in groups numbering up to 200.
As a result of wide-spread habitat loss and illegal collection of eggs and live birds from the wild for the illegal wildlife trade and traditional uses, the IUCN considers the Grey Crowned Crane to be endangered, despite their wide distribution in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. The population in South Africa is estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000 (out of a total population probably below 64,000 on the continent) and is mostly found in the provinces of the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal, Free State and Mpumalanga.