Demoiselle Crane

Demoiselle Crane
Demoiselle Crane
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Gruidae
Genus: Anthropoides
Binomial name
Anthropoides virgo
(Linnaeus, 1758)
[originally Ardea]
  • Ardea virgo Linnaeus, 1758
  • Grus ornata Brehm, CL, 1855

The Demoiselle Crane, Anthropoides virgo, is a species of crane that breeds in Central Asia and winters in India, with a few found in Cyprus and eastern Turkey as well. The crane annually migrates to Africa and South Asia in winter. The bird is symbolically significant in the culture of North India and Pakistan, where it is known as the koonj.[1]



The Demoiselle is 85–100 cm (34–39 in) long with a 155–180 cm (61–71 in) wingspan. It weighs 2–3 kg (4.4–6.6 lbs). It is the smallest species of crane.[2] The Demoiselle Crane is slightly smaller than the Common Crane but has similar plumage. It has a long white neck stripe and the black on the foreneck extends down over the chest in a plume.

It has a loud trumpeting call, higher-pitched than the Common Crane. Like other cranes it has a dancing display, more balletic than the Common Crane, with less leaping.


During the breeding season, marshy areas are preferred the living spaces, while the cranes are more commonly found in dry grasslands throughout the winter. The birds usually nest no more than 500 m away from a main source of water. Damp marshes, steppe habitats, and meadows are all other areas in which the Demoiselle Crane could be spotted in.

Demoiselle Cranes have to take one of the toughest migrations in the world. In late August through September, they gather in flocks of up to 400 individuals and prepare for their flight to their winter range. During their migratory flight south, Demoiselles fly like all cranes, with their head and neck straight forward and their feet and legs straight behind, reaching altitudes of 16,000-26,000 feet (4,875-7,925 m). Along their arduous journey they have to cross the Himalayan mountains to get to their over-wintering grounds in India, many die from fatigue, hunger and predation from birds such as eagles. Simpler, lower routes are possible, such as crossing the range via the Khyber Pass. However, their presently preferred route has been hard-wired by countless cycles of migration. At their wintering grounds, Demoiselles have been observed flocking with Common Cranes, their combined totals reaching up to 20,000 individuals. Demoiselles maintain separate social groups within the larger flock. In March and April, they begin their long spring journey back to their northern nesting grounds.

In Khichan, Rajasthan in India, villagers feed the Cranes on their migration and these large congregations have become an annual spectacle.

The Demoiselle Crane is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Symbolism in North Indian and Pakistani culture

The Demoiselle Crane is known as the Koonj (कूंज, کونج, ਕੂੰਜ) in the languages of North India and Pakistan, and figure prominently in the literature, poetry and idiom of the region. Beautiful women are often compared to the koonj because its long and thin shape is considered graceful. Metaphorical references are also often made to the koonj for people who have ventured far from home or undertaken hazardous journeys.[3]

The name koonj is derived from the Sanskrit word kraunch, which is a cognate Indo-European term for crane itself.[1] In the traditional telling of the history of Valmiki, the composer of the Hindu epic Ramayana, he composed his first verse when he saw a hunter kill the male of a pair of Demoiselle Cranes that were making love. Observing the lovelorn female circling and crying in grief, he cursed the hunter in verse. Since tradition held that all poetry prior to this moment had been revealed rather than created by man, this verse concerning the Demoiselle Cranes is regarded as the first human-composed meter.[4]

The flying formation of the koonj during migrations also inspired infantry formations in ancient India. The Mahabharata epic describes both warring sides adopting the koonj formation on the second day of the Kurukshetra War.[5]

The koonj figures in many traditional songs of the region, for instance the traditional Dogri song Koonja Uriyaan, notably sung by Malika Pukhraj, that uses a flock of Demoiselle Cranes as a device to describe different areas in the Dogri-Pahari speaking regions of the Himalayan states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.[6]

Photo gallery

External links


  1. ^ a b R. K. Gaur, Indian birds, Brijbasi Printers, 1994,, "... The smallest member of the crane family, the demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo ) is a distinctive looking bird, with ashy grey ... The local name for this crane — koonj — is onomatopoeic, deriving from the Sanskrit 'kraunch', the origin of the word crane itself ..." 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Department of English, University of Delhi, The Individual and Society, Pearson Education India, 2005, ISBN 9788131704172,, "... kunj: more properly koonj is a demoiselle crane. The word is used metaphorically for a young bride far from her home ..." 
  4. ^ Dinkar Joshi, Yogesh Patel, Glimpses of Indian Culture, Star Publications, 2005, ISBN 9788176501903,, "... Valmiki saw a pair of kraunch (cranes) birds making love. Suddenly, a hunter killed the male kraunch with an arrow. Valmiki was moved by the cries of the female ... Valmiki's pain was expressed through a shloka ... The first man-composed meter ..." 
  5. ^ Ramesh Menon, The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, iUniverse, 2006, ISBN 9780595401888,, "... The second day: Two kraunchas ... Yudhishtira decides to form his legions in the vyuha called the krauncha, after the crane ..." 
  6. ^ India today, Volume 17, Part 1, Thomson Living Media India Ltd., 1992,, "... Malika Pukhraj ... Kunja uriya jaye peya ..." 

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • demoiselle crane — a gray crane, Anthropoides virgo, of northern Africa, Europe, and Asia, having long, white plumes behind each eye. [1680 90] * * * …   Universalium

  • demoiselle crane — noun A crane, Anthropoides virgo, found in central Asia, 85 100 centimeters long with a loud trumpeting call …   Wiktionary

  • demoiselle crane — noun a small crane, breeding in SE Europe and central Asia. [Anthropoides virgo.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • demoiselle crane — a gray crane, Anthropoides virgo, of northern Africa, Europe, and Asia, having long, white plumes behind each eye. [1680 90] …   Useful english dictionary

  • Demoiselle — (French for damsel / little lady ) may refer to: Demoiselle crane, a crane (bird) of central Asia Demoiselle Stakes, a horse race held in New York Demoiselle Creek, New Brunswick Santos Dumont Demoiselle, an early aircraft Calopterygidae, the… …   Wikipedia

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  • crane — /krayn/, n., v., craned, craning. n. 1. any large wading bird of the family Gruidae, characterized by long legs, bill, and neck and an elevated hind toe. 2. (not used scientifically) any of various similar birds of other families, as the great… …   Universalium

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  • demoiselle — /dem weuh zel , dem euh /; Fr. /deuh mwann zel /, n., pl. demoiselles / zelz /; Fr. / zel /. 1. an unmarried girl or young woman. 2. See demoiselle crane. 3. a damselfly, esp. of the genus Agrion. 4. damselfish. 5. Furniture. a lady s wig stand… …   Universalium