Crane Loses Mate, But Owner Identified
He Hopes Bird Comes Home for the Holidays

By Lisa M. Krieger

San Jose Mercury News, November 30, 2006, pages 1A & 17A


Lisa M. Krieger / Mercury News

When the crane flew the coop, he didn't go far.

The owner of the stray East African crowned crane has stepped forward, saying that the valuable bird is his— and needs to come home. Its female mate has been found dead. The pair escaped while being moved into a new aviary in Los Altos Hills, he said, just up the road from the apricot orchard where the crane now resides.

"If anybody can capture him and bring him back, I'd really appreciate it. It needs special care," said Patrick Ng, who returned Tuesday from a Costa Rican bird-watching vacation to the news that his birds had been found. Ng was unable to track the bird himself because he was taken ill while traveling and spent the day in bed.

A tall and majestic East African crowned crane
has settled into an old orchard in Los Altos Hills.

Catching a crane is easier said than done, bird experts say. Cranes can be aggressive— and unless tame, will resist capture.

Meanwhile, the surviving crane's great adventure continues. On Wednesday, it continued to explore fields, orchards and abandoned pastures in a rustic corner of the town, keeping company with Steller's jays and other suburban species.

Its smaller mate, found dead in a neighbor's yard, has been carried home. Because it suffered no injuries, Ng thinks it may have succumbed from exposure or lack of proper food.

As bird enthusiasts flocked to Los Altos Hills for a glimpse of Uganda's national bird, Sandra Humphries kept close vigil.

"Cars keep stopping. I don't mind if they come to enjoy it, as long as they leave it be," she said.

Sighed friend Colette Cranston: "The looky-loos have arrived."

In the wild, gray crowned cranes survive in cool, damp weather only if they are acclimated in outdoor aviaries, and as long as there is proper food, said Jessie Gross, who works in a San Diego store called Bird Crazy, which buys and sells exotic birds. Wednesday's temperatures in Kampala, Uganda, ranged from a balmy 65 to 80.

Wild cranes have adapted to human settlements, dining on millet and maize from African fields. As birds go, they're easily domesticated. They're worth about $1,800 each.

But if adults can fly, it's tough to coerce them back into cages, Gross said.

While these birds were roosting near the Los Altos Hills Town Hall, a bird catcher dressed in goggles and gloves reportedly tried to catch them by net, to no avail.

"That's a tough one," Gross said. "You need to be careful. They can be very aggressive."

The majestic long-legged crane stands three feet tall, with a six-foot wingspan. Its beak is long— and sharp. It has acute vision and startles easily.

"They bite, and have claws," he said. "Because of their size, catching is not an option for most people. A net might work, if it is big enough. But if they can fly, it is going to be extra hard."

Ng has propped open the door to the new aviary— and left out food— in hopes that the bird will get homesick and return for the holidays.

"The cage is empty. I hope it comes back," he said. "I'd love to have it back."

Contact Lisa M. Krieger at lkrieger@mercurynews.com
or (650) 688-7565.

2006 MercuryNews.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Original: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/16129683.htm

Earlier Story: Crowned Crane Graces Los Altos Hills

Later Story: Exotic Gray Crane Continues Life at Large

Crowned Crane Photos