Found in groups of up to 150 birds, crowned cranes have been seen in a wide variety of areas including open grassland, garbage dumps, freshly plowed fields and amongst herds of domestic cattle from just south of the Sahara to the southeastern tip of South Africa. The largest breeding concentrations are in swampy areas of Kenya and Uganda surrounding Lake Victoria to the north.
They eat a wide variety of vegetation and insects as well as an occasional lizard. At Riverbanks Zoo, they are fed a specialized pellet diet in addition to insects, which they find in their enclosure.
Courtship displays by both males and females feature elaborate dances with bowing, flaring of wings and leaping into the air. These dances are learned by young birds from their parents and are not instinctive. For that reason, young birds remain with their parents long after they are able to feed themselves so that they can learn as much as possible.
Normally built in tall grass for protection, their nests may contain one to four eggs. Kneeling on the ground and peering above the grass, the yellow-crowned adults are almost perfectly camouflaged.
Incubation is shared by both parents for about 30 days. Chicks are somewhat independent at hatching, being completely mobile at only two days of age. Both adults provide protection and feed the chicks small insects flushed out by stamping their feet in the grass.