Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflecting on 2011, a big year in birds

Lesser flamingoes in Arusha National Park, Tanzania

365 days. 525,600 minutes. How does one measure a year in the life?*

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Welcome to Earth on the Wing!

Welcome to Earth on the Wing! This is a blog about my personal
experience with birds, ecology, and sustainability. Thanks for visiting
and I hope you fly with me again soon.

Earth on the Wing

Meyer's (brown) parrots (Poicephalus meyeri) on the left with a male
African orange-bellied parrot (Poicephalus rufiventris) on the right,
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Yellow-billed storks (Mycteria ibis) on the wing,
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

White-crested helmet-shrike (Prionops plumatus), near Kibungo, Rwanda

Denham's bustards (Neotis denhami),
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

African paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis),
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

My final photograph in Africa. Although I am no longer in Rwanda,
you can read about my continuing experience with birds,
ecology, and sustainability at Earth on the Wing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The crane they call Umusambi

Grey-crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum) live in Africa. In Rwanda,
this is the bird they call umusambi.

Grey-crowned cranes range from Uganda (where they are the national bird)
and Kenya down along the eastern half of sub-Saharan Africa nearly
to the tip of South Africa. 

Grey-crowned cranes are omnivores, and they often feed in grasslands, as
they are in this picture from Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.

Adult cranes have a wingspan of almost two meters, In this picture, they
are flying above the plains of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Cranes fly around to find food but when they breed, they make nests
of broken grasses in shallow waters. They often find spots in wetlands
that have both shallow water and tall plants for seclusion and protection.

Both male and female cranes look similar. According to Animal Diversity 
Web, grey-crowned cranes are monogamous and may mate for life.
It takes a young bird about one year to look like its parents.

Sadly, the population of grey-crowned cranes is decreasing. Habitat loss
and capture from the wild have put serious pressure on the cranes. One
day in June, a man showed up with a baby crane and tried to sell it to
Michele and me. We declined.

People capture cranes for food, traditional practices, and the domestic and
international pet  markets. Taking a crane is illegal in Rwanda, but a payday
of 20,000  Rwandan Francs (about $33 USD) makes it an attractive crime.
As much as we wanted to buy the crane to let it go, we did not want to
give the man economic incentive to take this one or another one later.
My guess is this crane was taken to a bigger city for sale but if that failed,
it was probably eaten. Birdlife International lists this bird as vulnerable.

We could not save that umusambi. It was sad to witness it. Michele drew
this picture shortly after to try to put the bird back in its home.

Fly away, umusambi, fly away!!! Organizations that help to conserve crane
habitats and prevent their removal from the wild include:
Uganda Wildlife Education Center
Wildlife Conservation Society
International Crane Foundation

Works consulted

  • BirdLife International (2011) Species factsheet: Balearica regulorum. Downloaded from on 03/12/2011. 
  • Ryan, P. and Sinclair, I. Birds of Africa south of the Sahara. Struik Nature: Cape Town, 2003.
  • Thairu, M. 2011. "Balearica regulorum" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 02, 2011 at
  • "The Cranes: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan." 2006. U.S. Department of the Interior-U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed online December 2, 2011 at
  • "Ugandan Cranes Declining Due to 'Witch Doctors.'" National Geographic News. October 19, 2007. Accessed online December 2, 2011 at