The white-naped crane is a large species of crane, standing 112-125cm in height, and weighing about 5.5kg. It has a grey body, pinkish legs, a grey and white neck, a white head, and distinctive red patches around the eyes.
White-naped cranes are found near several rivers in Mongolia, particularly the Onon, Ulz, and Kherlen rivers of Khentii and Dornod Aimags (provinces). They arrive from their wintering grounds in China, Japan and Korea in early April, and begin to build nests in suitable habitat a couple of weeks later, once the wetlands have thawed. Pairs frequently defend their territory early in the summer, but become more tolerant of intruders later on. Chicks (usually two per nest) are born in early June. Cranes depart once again for their wintering grounds, in the fall.
Cranes reach sexual maturity in their third or fourth year, and form monogamous long-lasting pair bonds.
Ideal crane habitat includes grassy marshes, wet meadows and reedbeds, in broad river valleys. They sometimes appear to favor wetlands with adjoining farmland. Nests are usually built amongst relatively tall vegetation, and close to open water. It is common for pairs to build several nests within their territory, and only lay eggs in one. This may be to ensure that nests are available if the first brood fails.
In Mongolia this species feeds mainly on insects, small vertebrates, seeds, and the roots or tubers of various wetland plants. At their wintering ground they mainly feed upon fish, shrimp, and shellfish, and some plant material such as maize.
Old or abandoned nests may be found amongst tall vegetation in suitable crane habitat.
WCS Mongolia has identified the white-naped crane as a target species for its SCAPES (Sustainable Conservation Approaches in Priority Ecosystems) Project. In addition to extensive survey work, in summer 2011 a Trans-boundary Working Group Meeting is being held with representatives from partner organizations across the whole range of the species. Information on current and historic ranges will be consolidated, and priority locations and conservation actions will be highlighted, for the coming years.
The single most significant threat to white-naped cranes is habitat loss through the drying of wetlands. This may be due to climate change, or agricultural development. In recent years this has been particularly evident in the Amur river basin in Russia, which the Onon River in Mongolia is connected to. Fires, both naturally occurring and deliberate, may destroy crane nests, and the vegetation which they are built amongst. Close to human settlements, cranes may be disturbed by domestic livestock such as cattle, and stray dogs. Range-wide hunting by humans is a problem, but this is not thought to be serious in Mongolia.