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Kurja, koonj, Kurjan bird are the vernacular names for the demoiselle cranes. Every year the sleepy village of khichan wakes up to the craw-craw sounds of these majestic birds. Large flocks of kurja birds circle the sky of khichan, going round and round until one of them, the leader dives in to descend. Following the leader, the flock spreads its large wings when it nears the ground. If you want to be left spellbound by such a scenario then read on. This article is for you.

What is Kurja/demoiselle crane and how to identify it in the field?

Demoiselle cranes are one of the 15 glorious species of cranes found worldwide. They are the smallest of the cranes with an average adult length of 90 cm. With long necks and legs, streamlined bodies, and long rounded wings, it possesses all the attractive features which the cranes are known for. These birds, as mentioned earlier, are also locally known as Koonj or Kurja in the local Rajasthani dialect.

Comman NameDemoiselle Crane
Local NamesKurja, Koonj, Kurjan, Kuranja
Scientific NameAnthropoides virgo
Genus Anthropoides

These cranes can be easily recognized based upon their unique characteristics and physical features. The adult demoiselle cranes have a uniform grey body. Long legs, and neck, long rounded wings, with black neck and head are its characteristic features. One of its unique features is the presence of a white tuft that extends from the corner of orange-red eyes as white lines and extends to the back of the head. If you are a bird watcher, then these characteristics will help you recognize demoiselle cranes in the field easily.

Adults of both sexes look the same and can only be recognized by their size difference. Usually, the male adults are larger than the females and this is how they are differentiated from each other. But It’s difficult to distinguish them when they are in a flock. Their one-year-old chicks also attain a considerable size, so you will need a sharp eye to identify them as well. Do not be demoralized when you are not able to distinguish them.

Once you are in the field. It is easy to locate them since they hardly remain silent when they are in a flock. You will hear them, so just follow the craw-craw sound.

Here is a picture to help you

Demoiselle crane pair. Kurja bird Pair at pond in Khichan bird sanctuary. Photo by - Ankit Meena
A romancing couple at Khichan bird sanctuary

Why Do Demoiselle cranes migrate?

Every migration has some fundamental cause at the root. Animals and birds alike, are always on the move to find greener pastures and a more suitable habitat. Migratory birds, typically use different areas for breeding and wintering. Based upon the purpose that a site serves, it is called a breeding site or a wintering site respectively. In the case of Demoiselle cranes, their reasons for migration are

  • Their breeding sites, which are located in northern latitudes in Central Asia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan are cold regions. The winters here are very harsh and the food availability also becomes very low.
  • To avoid harsh weather and starvation, these cranes migrate to lower latitudes. Usually, the flock’s movement occurs along the paths which their predecessors discovered earlier.
  • In simple words, we can say, that a population of demoiselle cranes will migrate to a region in which it was raised by its earlier generations. Based upon this, there are about  6 migrating populations of demoiselle cranes which are spread across three different continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
  • These cranes spend their winters in these lower latitudes and then migrate back to their breeding locations.
Demoiselle crane in flight. Kurja bird flying. Photo by - Ankit Meena
Kurja bird in flight at Khichan

In India, these cranes arrive at the end of August and stay here till March. By the end of March, they start migrating back to their breeding grounds.

What is the diet of Demoiselle cranes?

Detailed scientific studies have been conducted to determine the diet composition of kurja bird. They primarily consume seeds for much of the year but they also supplement their diet by feeding upon several invertebrates. An analysis of gizzard by researchers revealed that apart from seeds, the kurja birds readily eat large insects, worms, lizards, tadpoles, wheat, sorghum, chickpea along with other invertebrates. Animal bones, feathers, stones, quartz, etc were also found in their gizzard.

Where can you find Kurja bird in Rajasthan?

Generally, when the demoiselle cranes arrive in India, they spread throughout the sub-continent. If you live near NCR or in Rajasthan or any neighboring regions, the best place to find them is at Khichan village in Phalodi tehsil of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Khichan deserves a special mention due to the sheer numbers in which they are present there. You can witness thousands of them at once at the famous Khichan bird sanctuary. Khichan bird sanctuary is demarcated as an area around two large ponds of the village. Apart from this, there is another place in the near vicinity called ‘Chugga Ghar’ where you can see the entire flock feeding on the grains which are spread out for them every day. Sewa Ram Mali is the local caretaker of these birds who is always on a constant watch for their safety and security. He has fought hard to protect the habitat of these birds in and around Khichan. Interaction with him will leave you inspired. The best time to visit this place is from October to March. If you feel like staying and exploring the place a little more then Kurja resort is a good place to stay.

If you want to see them at their wild best, then Tal Chappar sanctuary in the Churu district of Rajasthan is also a great place to witness them in large numbers. As a bonus, you can also see the beautiful black-buck bouncing around in the sanctuary.

demoiselle crane group at khichan pond. photo by - Ankit Meena
A gathering of Kurja birds at Khichan pond

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About Author

  • Ankit is an avid reader and a writer by interest who views life as a process of continues conquest. He is an environmental enthusiast and has a Master's degree in Environmental Studies.