Demoiselle cranes (Anthropoides virgo) are avian migrants par excellence. The smallest crane in the world, standing at a mere 76 cm (30 inches), the demoiselle still achieves the most goliath task in the avian world every year. In August and September, tens of thousands of the birds take wing to avoid the icy winters of Central Asia, passing over the Himalayas on their way to the warmer climes of India. The way is arduous, with intense attrition rates from inclement weather and predation by eagles. All the same, they are resilient fliers, capable of traveling hundreds or thousands of miles without needing to land or to eat, and most of the birds surmount this monumental obstacle for years on end.
While some western populations winter in northern Africa instead, it is in India that the demoiselle is best known. In fact, the people of Rajasthan, who call the demoiselle the koonj, revere the crane for its historic place in Indian literature and mythology. Demoiselles typically mate for life in monogamous pairs, and care for hatchlings for about two months until they fledge. Unlike most cranes, the demoiselle is not a bird of the wetlands, instead preferring upland regions, where it feeds upon a wide array of both plant and animal matter.
Photo: by Sumeet Moghe (at Wikimedia Commons), at Tal Chappar, Churu, Rajasthan, 1 February 2014.