Damsels of the Sky: Meet the Demoiselle Cranes

The world’s smallest cranes visit India every winter.  
Demoiselle Cranes
Demoiselle cranes bond for life and reinforce their fidelity with elaborate dance rituals. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Demoiselle cranes were christened by the infamous queen Marie Antoinette after the French word for damsel. They might look delicate, but the birds are by no means fragile, and are known to make one of the harshest migrations in the world. Every September, demoiselles make the arduous journey from China and Mongolia, past the snow-capped Himalayas, and farther south to Rajasthan and Gujarat, where they spend the winter months. They are the smallest and lightest of the crane family, but fly at altitudes of over 16,000 feet.

In Rajasthan, the cranes flock to the village of Khichan in the Thar Desert, 150km north of Jodhpur, where they are greeted warmly by the settlement’s human residents. Years ago, when the cranes began roosting in the village, locals fought to take down high tension wires and electricity poles around the area to ensure the birds weren’t harmed during flight. Today, the village has a chugga ghar or feeding house, where the birds are safe from dogs and other predators.

See Them Here In addition to Khichan, demoiselle cranes can be spotted at the Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan, as well as at Gujarat’s Little Rann of Kutch. The birds stay until around March, until it’s time for their long journey back home.

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    Fabiola Monteiro is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.

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