Common Crane: New Subspecies in Armenia

Traditionally, taxonomists recognized only two subspecies of the Common Crane (Grus grus) which differ from each other in their plumage colouration and body size. Nonetheless, the breeding range of the Common Crane has not been completely identified and it was preliminary agreed that the boundaries between their nesting areas stretch either along the Pechora river or along the Ural Mountain range. It is noteworthy, however, that the isolated ‘populations’ of the Common Crane in Tibet and the Transcaucasus region have been attributed to the eastern subspecies without any justifiable grounds.

This issue has been raised by the Russian ornithologist Valentin Ilyashenko and a number of other scientists at the International conference held in Rostov-on-Don city, Russian Federation, in 2007. An Armenian scientist Mamikon Ghasabyan attending the meeting has introduced the current distribution and population estimates of the Common Crane in Armenia and appeared with an offer to organize a joint scientific expedition to study the Armenian breeding population of cranes.

Taking him up on this offer, Valentin Ilyashenko arranged a visit in spring of 2008 to Armenia and jointly with scientists from the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds studied a small group of cranes nesting in Shirak marz, as well as bird specimens stored in the scientific collections of the Institute of Zoology NAS RA.

gluxThe findings of research revealed that the Armenian cranes are morphologically different from the subspecies of the Common Crane which had been described and documented to occur and breed in Armenia. These distinctions are visible even with a naked eye. The new subspecies clearly lacks a red patch on the back of the head, has black skin papillae that stretch from the base of the bill to the top of the head and has a different eye colour which is bright yellow. Clear distinctions are also evident in the eggshell patterns, plumage coloration and body size of newly hatched chicks as well as a number of other traits.

This collection of facts supports the evidence that both the adult individuals and chicks of the Common Crane are different from other subspecies and identify it as being a new subspecies.

At present, the recently discovered new subspecies of the Common Crane Grus grus archibaldi is known to breed only in the northern regions of Armenia occurring in waterlogged meadows and wetlands adjacent to Lake Arpi, in the Javakheti region in Georgia and in Kars district in Turkey. It was given its scientific name, Grus grus archibaldi, in honour of the world renowned biologist and distinguished conservationist Dr. George W. Archibald who has dedicated his life to research and conservation of cranes.

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