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African Crane Chicks First March Outside

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Two African crowned crane chicks were recently introduced to their outdoor habitat at the Virginia Zoo and are now accepting visitors.

"They hatched in late August, but we wait until they bulk up and are less vulnerable before putting them in the outdoor habitat," said zookeeper Dennis McNamara, who works on the team that cares for the chicks. He added that the chicks still spend the night indoors, and will continue to do so until they are nearly full grown.

Named for what appears to be a crown of golden pins on their head, which are actually modified feathers, African crowned cranes are native to the savannah south of the Sahara. The birds stand just over 3 feet tall and weigh nearly 8 pounds, with the males tending to be slightly larger. They feed on insects and other invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals and seeds.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for people to observe the chicks' transformation into the striking adult birds," said Greg Bockheim, the Zoo's executive director.

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Photo Credites: Winfield S. Danielson/Virgina Zoo

The African crowned crane is known for a breeding dance involving bowing and jumping. They build a nest platform from grass and other plants in wetland areas, laying a clutch of two to five eggs. Both males and females incubate the eggs for 28 to 31 days. Adult cranes catch food in their beaks and hold it out for the chicks to come and take. The family of cranes shares their habitat at the Zoo with bongos, a large forest antelope.

Although common over much of its range, the African crowned crane's habitat is threatened by drainage, overgrazing and pesticide pollution.