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The Zhalong Nature Reserve--A Paradise for Red-Crowned Cranes

The Zhalong Nature Reserve is located in the city of Qiqihar in western Heilongjiang Province. The reserve is dotted with numerous rivers and lakes which are covered in thick reeds and grass, making it an ideal home for water fowl.

Red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis), a rare species of the crane family, live in this area, therefore 42,000 hectares of the reserve has been designated a "Water Fowl Protected Area". The red-crowned crane is a gentle and aloof creature with beautiful white and black feathers. On the top of its head is a small fiery-red crown, which Chinese people regard as a symbol of good fortune and longevity.
In March and April, the cranes set off from southern China and fly north, finally landing in Zhalong, which at that time is still covered in white sonw. There they peck at grass roots and wait patiently for spring to come. When the land turns green again, they begin their breeding season. They make their nests in shallow water and each female crane lays just two eggs. The male and female take turns hatching the eggs, and in about 30 days the little fluffy chichs break through the shell and emerge. When they are six months old, they fly to the Yangtse River Valley together with their parents to spend the winter.

Red-crowned cranes love to dance. Often after a big meal they will prance about it groups of three or four. Their movements as they "dance" are strangely similar to those of ballet dancers. During mating season, the young male bird will do a solo dance to woo the female. Tourists who come to Zhalong often have the good luck to witness one of these beautiful performances.

With meticulous and loving care, bird experts in Zhalong have successfully raised several flocks of cranes who live here year round. Unlike other cranes, who have to fly thousands of kilometres in search of food during the cold winter months, these birds stay because they are so well fed and looked after here. Why should they want to go anywhere else?

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