Cranes fledge three young at Lakenheath

The Common Cranes at Lakenheath Fen RSPB firs bred in 2009, having arrived in 2007. Photo: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com).
The Common Cranes at Lakenheath Fen RSPB firs bred in 2009, having arrived in 2007. Photo: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com).
Three is the magic number for the Lakenheath RSPB Common Cranes, as they have fledged the most chicks yet at the reserve.

Staff and volunteers at Lakenheath Fen RSPB on the Norfolk-Suffolk border are celebrating the best breeding season to date for the two pairs of Common Crane that nest on the reserve. Three young cranes have fledged at the fenland reserve, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The parent cranes, which stand five feet tall and have an eight foot wingspan, have been resident on the reserve since 2007. One of the pairs made history in 2009, when they fledged the first young crane chick in the Fens for over 400 years. Since then, a further four chicks have fledged on the reserve. In 2012, both pairs fledged young in the same year for the first time ever.

Common Crane is a large, elegant wading bird that breeds in wetlands in northern Europe and Asia, similar in size to Grey Heron. They have Amber conservation status in the UK due to the very small number which breed or winter here.

Last year there were just 25 pairs of cranes nesting in the whole of Britain, and the Fen population, which also includes birds nesting at Nene Washes RSPB, east of Peterborough, forms a significant proportion of the British nesting population.

At Lakenheath, one pair fledged twins on 6 July, while the second pair fledged a single youngster on 12th. As well as being the first season that three young have left the nest on the reserve, it is also the first time that twins have fledged.

Dave Rogers, Senior Site Manager for Lakenheath Fen said: “Cranes are magnificent birds and we’re delighted that the two pairs at Lakenheath are having so much success breeding here. It was great when the first pair had got their twins flying and it is amazing now that the other crane pair, known to us as Little and Large, have coaxed their youngster into the air as well. We put a lot of effort into managing the reserve for our cranes and it is fantastic that they have done such a good job of parenting this year.

“They usually stay around the reserve for two-three weeks after the chicks first get airborne, building their flight muscles, so hopefully our visitors will be treated to good views of the families as the young birds test their new-found flying skills around the reserve.

“The best place to catch sight of them is from Joist Fen viewpoint, a one-and-a-half mile walk from the visitor centre along the reserve trail. If they’re really lucky, passengers passing Lakenheath on the train between Norwich and Ely might even be able to spot them from the train!”

By mid-August, parents and young will leave the reserve and spend the autumn and winter together, but unlike European birds they won’t be migrating south. Instead, Fenland cranes winter in the UK, feeding on spilt grain, left-over potatoes and sugar beet tops that are plentiful in the farmland around the Fens, and roosting at night in the area’s wetlands. They also gather in social flocks and on occasion places like the Nene Washes can have 20 or more together.

Lakenheath Fen RSPB is open at all times and the visitor centre is open daily 9am-5pm, apart from 24-26 December. Entry is free for RSPB members and £4 per car for non-members. Please ring 01842 863400 or e-mail lakenheath@rspb.org.ukfor more information about visiting the reserve.
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