Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Voël, the Crowned Crane

Blue cranes in flight

Recently I have had a lot of queries and requests to ‘look after’ and rear Blue Cranes. Sadly the one rescued youngster did not live long enough to reach me, while the other adult imprinted bird was left with its original caretakers. This brought me back to a Crowned crane that I had been given to rear two years ago.

Below is the sad story of this magnificent bird, which I wrote after losing it. I find this is sometimes the best way I can get over the heartache of not succeeding in giving a bird its freedom again.


“Today I lost Voël, the Crowned Crane or Mahem, as some people know them. It broke my heart to see this bird lying there on the ground with no life left in it.

the tiny chick
It arrived at Rookwood early in March, a mere 30cm high, a pathetic little ‘chicken winged’ downy chick calling all the time. Apparently it had been found ‘abandoned’ and brought to the SPCA. I can remember worrying about whether it was a Blue or Crowned Crane and my hesitant expectations in managing to ‘rear’ this little chap without losing it, because it would not eat or would get any sort of infection or any other little problem that could arise. You see, I felt, it should really be with its normal parents. A call to an expert, Vicky, gave me enough ammunition to start the process of rearing this bird.


Initially, it was put into a cage with my remaining fowls, so that it could grow up with the fowls. I was at that stage in the process of disposing of my fowls, but had two hens with chicks. Neither fowl nor bird took note of each other though, so I abandoned that idea and passed the balance of my fowls on. I had to bring Voël in every night as it had no natural feathers to keep it warm. It would climb under a feather duster that I had suspended in the bird cage, and this was its night time mom. During the day it went out into a bunny cage and soon was allowed to wander around on the back lawn.


Food consisted of cat food pouches with crushed egg shell for calcium as well as a mealie cob. 

Outside it used to ‘comb’ grass for seed as food. By now it was called ‘Groei’ (meaning grow) as this is what it had to do. Once Groei got too big for the bunny cage we allowed it to wander around on the lawn all the time. I converted the night time to a carton box turned sideways to accommodate its length. One evening I was late in collecting Groei and it had got dark, but Groei had put itself to bed by climbing back into its makeshift cage.

Voël in the long grass


Groei grew quickly and the feathers emerged making it possible to put it into one of my larger rehab cages for the nights. Then Groei discovered it had wings and converted sleeping downstairs to upstairs on top of the cage. From the time it was little it had developed the typical crown on the top of its head, like a Yamaka that slowly changed into spikes. Groei now became Voël (meaning bird) as it had got to the height it would. The only thing that needed to happen now was for the full plumage to emerge, which would take up to a year.

Voël with it's Yamaka

Voël became part of the scene in the yard. It would fly from the top of the cage to the back lawn, check the washing on the line, take a dip in the bathtub (put out there specifically for Voël), lie flat on the grass while sunning itself and do inspection on anything you were busy within the garden around the house. Towards the end it used to fly quite a bit. It was also ‘dancing’ like Mahems do.

Voël stretching its wings
It must have taken a mere second for all life to leave Voël when it hit the power line! How was it to see those lines and not anticipate that it could not have survived this impact? You see Voël will not have been the only Crowned crane that will die on power lines like this, but one of many who do not have the ‘comforts’ it had while growing up at Rookwood. I learnt a lot from Voël, but will always feel that I wish I could have done more to ‘warn’ it that this is one of the dangers in the free flying world. I will never know whether it was a male or female as only a blood test would have done that. This I would never had done, nor pinioned its wings because you see – I wanted Voël to be a free flying bird where it belongs!”


My heart goes out to all the Blue crane chicks (not often the Crowned cranes) that get caught to be hand reared as pets as well as to all the cranes that get poisoned or killed on power lines.

In Memory of Voël

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