The demoiselle crane is a moderately large bird, standing up to 75 cms (30 ins) high and being up to 100 cms (40 ins) long. The wingspan extends to 180 cms (70 ins). The bird weighs up to 3 kgs (6.5 pounds).
It is an elegant and graceful bird in appearance, having a light-coloured body and crest, dark legs and neck, and prominent ornamental tufts growing from just behind the eye.
The name “demoiselle” (French for “young woman”) was reputedly given to the bird by Marie Antoinette, the Austrian wife of King Louis XVI of France. This is evidence of the fact that many demoiselle cranes were – in past times – taken from their native environment to enhance the scene in the parks of western aristocrats and royalty. They were clearly able to breed successfully in their new homes.
In its original habitat the demoiselle crane feeds on grass seeds, grasshoppers, locusts and beetles, and sometimes on lizards.
The demoiselle crane carries out extravagant communal mating displays that strengthen the bonds between pairs. A group of birds will form a circle around a few individuals that leap and dance in turn, bowing and calling with their wings outstretched.
Unlike common cranes, which build huge reed nests, demoiselle cranes nest in shallow depressions in the ground, surrounded by stones. A clutch of two or three eggs are laid which take around 28 days to hatch. Fledging takes place at around 60 days with full independence at 10 months.