French crane count breaks records


A staggering 268,120 Common Cranes were counted at Lake Der-Chantecoq, north-east France, on 3 November 2019, breaking the European record for a single-site count of the species on staging grounds during one day.

The total easily surpasses the previous best count of 206,000, which was made at the lake in November 2014. Signs that a new high might be on the cards this autumn came during an earlier count made at the same site on 30 October, when 194,720 cranes were tallied.

Common Crane has been increasing throughout Europe for more than 30 years, primarily as a result of changes in farming practice (W Schulenburg).

Common Crane is one of the most abundant of the world's 15 crane species, with a total world population of more than 700,000 birds. Its breeding range extends eastwards from north-west Europe and through Russia, Mongolia, northern China and into eastern Siberia.

The Western European population now exceeds 600,000 and has been increasing for more than three decades, primarily as a result of changes in farming practice that have provided an abundance of food during the winter and along the cranes' migration routes. This has led to increased winter survival and improved condition of the birds on return to their breeding grounds.

Lake Der-Chantecoq is situated on the West European Flyway and is a well-known staging and wintering site for Common Cranes – although peak numbers are usually witnessed in late October and November, before many of the birds continue southwards to wintering grounds on the Iberian Peninsula. Birds using this western flyway breed in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, parts of Finland), central Europe (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic) and the Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania, western Estonia), staging in autumn in parts of Germany and northern France.

A large flock of Common Cranes migrating over Tailles, Luxembourg (Marc Fasol).

The majority of the Finnish cranes, as well as many from Estonia, use the Baltic-Hungarian flyway. This route takes them south to stopover sites in eastern Hungary and northern Serbia, where many will over-winter. However, others will continue to northern Africa via Italy.

Those that breed in south-east Finland, eastern Estonia and western Russia use the Eastern European flyway across the Black Sea and Turkey to Israel. While some overwinter there, most continue their route to wintering grounds in eastern Africa, especially Ethiopia.

Further east, Common Cranes breeding in the Caspian Sea region use the Volga-Iranian flyway to wintering grounds in Iran, while those breeding in Mongolia and throughout eastern Siberia winter across the Indian Subcontinent and in parts of Myanmar and China.