The demoiselle crane is the smallest species found, not only in India, but anywhere ; it is not quite a yard long, and so would be more likely to be mistaken for the grey heron than is the common crane, were it not that the adults have their grey plumage strikingly set off by the black face, neck and breast, and long white plumes drooping from the cheeks; while in the case of the young, which have only black on the neck, and but a little there, and the "kiss-curls" only just indicated, the shorter beak and neck outstretched in flight are sufficient distinctions.
Moreover, demoiselle cranes are, even more than the common crane, likely to be found in flocks; they are extremely sociable, and some of their assemblages are enormous. Captain E. A. Butler says : " I have seen tanks fringed with a blue margin of these birds at least sixty yards wide, and extending over several acres of ground, over and over again." This was in Guzerat, and here, as well as in Kathiawar and the Deccan, are the bird's headquarters during its stay with us, for it is only a winter visitor, generally leaving in March, but sometimes waiting till May; the month for arrival is October. Besides the provinces named, the demoiselle also visits North-western India generally, and penetrates as far as Mysore in the Peninsula ; but in Lower Bengal and the countries to the eastward it is not found, though occurring in China in the winter, and in the end of the Peninsula is a rarity, while it does not reach Ceylon. It is called Kullum in the Deccan, but wrongly, as this name seems to apply properly to the common crane or coolung, unless it simply means " crane " ; the Mahratta name Karkuchi, the Canarese Karkoncha, and the Uriya Garara, are evidently, like " karkarra," an attempt at imitating the note, which in this species is very harsh and grating, quite at variance with the dainty grace of the bird, which well merits the name of "demoiselle."
It is a cheerful, playful bird, and in some districts spends most of the day on the wing, soaring round and round in circles, apparently merely for exercise. At such times it is most difficult to get near, and is, generally speaking, a very wary and thoroughly sporting bird. It is also excellent eating, at any rate when it has had the chance of feeding on cultivated produce, to which it is as partial as the common crane; for this species also is, in its winter quarters at least, by preference a vegetable feeder. A favourite food is the kardo, or safflower seed, but it eats grain freely, and thrives well on it in captivity. Young reared in Europe in captivity, however, were fed by their parents on insects at first.
After feeding on land they betake themselves to the edges of large tanks, and especially rivers, and roost in large flocks in such places, or in open plains, with sentinels set, the roosting flock breaking up into detachments with daybreak, when they fly abroad for food.
The breeding range of the demoiselle is very wide, from Southern Europe eastwards all through Asia, but in temperate regions always, for this species is at all times a less northern bird than the common crane. The nest is on the ground, but made, curiously enough, of pebbles, with which also all the inequalities of the ground round about are filled in. The eggs, two in number, are much like those of the common crane, but smaller, and with more distinct markings on a darker ground.
It is worth mentioning that in Southern India some sort of sanctity attaches to this bird; patches of crops are left for it to feed on, and in Brahmin districts one may have serious trouble for shooting one, unless feeling about such matters has altered since Hume wrote a generation ago.