No visit to East Hokkaido would be complete without watching the iconic and endangered Red-crowned Cranes. In Japan, the Tancho or Red-crowned Crane (丹頂鶴) is considered a mystical creature that lives for a thousand years and hence represents long life and happiness. The long process, of rescuing this bird from the brink of extinction in the 1920s (population less than 50), to the present population of more than 1,000 birds in Hokkaido gives much hope to conservation elsewhere. Red-crowned Cranes are one of the world's largest birds and can reach 10-15kg in weight, 1.5 meters in height and a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters.
We saw quite a number, some with chicks and others with juveniles. Red-crowned Cranes are monogamous and often remain together for many years or until one dies. The female often lays 2 eggs but usually only one chick lives due to predation. This family unit had two chicks but one has since died. The young bird has enormous feet. Chicks can apparently swim better than adults, but may also be carried on the parents back when younger.
The chick follows the parents around to be fed. One parent (presumed male) often assumes the role of ‘watchman’ and is often erect, looking around for danger. In Japan humans are tolerated and generally not considered a major threat. Food is given directly to the chick or identified on the ground for the chick to take. The food is held in the tip of the beak and then thrown back to be swallowed. I observed mainly what looked like grain (or perhaps invertebrates picked up in the grass) and beetles fed to the young. A short video of feeding behaviour, which also show the alert, sentinel behaviour here: https://youtu.be/jxDvvJPmGM0