The Common Crane Network in France

The Common Crane Network in France


The Réseau Grues France was set up in 1995 and now comprises about fourty associations working under the supervision of the LPO Champagne-Ardenne (Champagne-Ardenne Organisation for the Protection of Birds). It makes it possible to follow the migration of Cranes day by day and to better understand this fantastic journey.


A return ticket for a trip through Europe The Common Crane Network ; birders on the watch Champagne-Ardenne : in the heart of the migration Where to watch Cranes in France ?

Photo Diane Castanet

Pictures by Diane Castanet

  A return ticket for a trip through Europe

The migration of Common Cranes has marked seasonal activities from times immemorial. Their characteristic‘krruee-kroo’ calls herald their arrivals. Twice a year, from Sweden to the Iberian Peninsula and through France, the Cranes fly across our continent : to their wintering areas in autumn, then to their nesting areas in spring. In August/September, after they have raised their young in the peat-bogs of the Scandinavian forests, thousands of them gather on the isles and the south coasts of the Baltic Sea. Starting in October, when food becomes scarce, they massively migrate towards the South in two, or sometimes three huge waves. This is the beginning of the long trans-European journey that will lead them to their traditional wintering areas in Spain. But France increasingly hosts wintering cranes in Champagne and Aquitaine.

The return migration starts as early as February. Urged by their breeding instinct, the Cranes quickly fly northwards. Their return is faster but but still as spectacular.

Lake Hornborga, in Sweden, is the ultimate stop-over before they scatter on their nesting sites.




The Common Crane Network ; birders on the watch

This complex and mysterious migration has been studied by the birdwatchers of the Reseau Grues France for a few years now. For the members of this network, the loud bugle-like calls of Cranes are the first signs of a thrilling period. Set up in 1995 by the LPO Champagne-Ardenne, the network coordinates the work of the thirty-odd associations located along the migration route. The network attains its true dimension thanks to exchanges with foreign organisations in Germany and Spain. Offices in Champagne-Ardenne are seething with excitement during important migratory influxes. A very elaborate plan of action has been set up in order to better anticipate migrations and to inform people when huge flocks of Cranes leave or arrive.

First move, first alert

On 8 November 1998, 2,600 Cranes left their night roost at the Der Lake. Meanwhile, birds flocking together in large numbers in the North of Germany were sure signs of imminent departures. Indeed, hordes of birdsPhoto Diane Castanet landed on the shores of the Der Lake later in the day. They arrived ceaselessly throughout the day totalling 15,000 birds late in the afternoon. More birds came during the following night. The next day, 20,000 birds left their roosting site at the break of dawn, to which one must add 2,500 German birds and the ones that did not stop over. In the early morning of the 11th , 21,500 Cranes left the area. It was time for this first wave to fly southwards. Numerous observations confirmed these departures all along that day : 7,000 birds observed in the Departement of Yonne, 9 to 13,000 in Vienne (source :SOBA Nature Nievre), 7,000 in Cher, 6,000 in Indre (source : Indre Nature), more than 2,000 in Allier and almost 15,000 above Limoges (source : FLEPNA, SEPOL). The birds did not all reach Aquitaine in such large flocks, but in the evening of the 11th, nearly 20,000 Cranes were reported at the Arjuzanx roost. The birdwatchers of the Pyrenees and Spain were alerted

In the meantime, birds were still leaving Northern Germany. Numerous flights were reported all along the migratory route and fax machines were red hot in Champagne-Ardenne.

The true importance of the word ‘Network’

Departures and arrivals followed one another at a hot pace all through the migration season. Thus, as was the case for that first hectic wave, all observations of flights of Cranes are centralised by local associations and transmitted to the national coordinating organisation, the LPO. The national synthesis which is published every year to assess the situation of the preceding migration is an essential communications tool between the different participating associations. Such a network makes it possible to give trustworthy and regular information to the general public and the mass media, which are very interested. It also makes it possible to collect observations of ringed Cranes and to take part in an international scientific programme efficiently.


The Reseau Grues France :

The members of the French Crane Network 

Profitable contacts with several foreign associations :
Kranich-Informationszentrum in Germany, SEO/BirdLife, SEO/ARAGON, ALLUCANT, ADENEX in Spain and the Swedish Crane Working Group.

Nearly 1,800 observations analysed yearly.

Please communicate your observations to the Network : your participation is needed to improve our knowledge of the Common Crane and to protect it.


Champagne-Ardenne : in the heart of the migration


Photo Diane CastanetThe big lakes are very attractive for the 35,000 to 80,000 migrating birds stopping over twice a year. Cranes can find peace and quiet on the small isles and plenty of food in the nearby fields. Moreover, numerous birds have chosen to winter over in that area for a few years now : 8,700 birds during the winter of 1998/99. The Der Lake has thus become one of the three most important wintering sites in France with Arjuzanx and Captieux in Aquitaine, where 23,000 Cranes wintered during that very season.


The follow-up of feeding zones : the example of the Champagne Region

Agricultural environment friendly measures are an important element in the protection of theCrane and its resting zones. They were devised in collaboration with farmers and leave the Cranes free to feed in the fields (no ploughing in the maize stubble fields before 15 December or 15 March ; preservations of meadows). As a compensation, the farmers who accept these rules receive French and European subsidies. The follow-up of these feeding zones (nearly 1500 hectares or 3700 acres) is ensured by the LPO.

Information and public awareness campaigns

Numerous activities have been organised around the Der Lake for the many people who, every year, come from all over Eruope to watch the splendid sights of cranes leaving or coming to the area. Week-end activities and the warm welcome of unpaid ornithologists along the dykes of the lake enable a lot of people to become familiar with these fantastic waders.

Thus, because the LPO has managed to reconcile the Crane with agriculture and tourism, and because the unpaid ornithologists were so deeply involved (almost 900 hours devoted to studying birds and welcoming the general public this year), this organisation has become a special partner for farmers and now plays an indisputable role as far as tourism is concerned. It thus participates in the local development of the region in the long run. This sets an example, just as in Aquitaine.


Where to watch Cranes in France ?

Couloir migratoire

Flocks of Cranes can be observed from October to December and in February/March all along the migrating route (Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Centre, Limousin, Auvergne, Aquitaine). Moreover, several thousand birds can be seen regularly at some good spots. In Aquitaine, you can come across Cranes in the Landes de Gascogne. But The most spectacular and best views can be made at the Der- Chantecoq Lake..

- Der-Chantecoq Lake : contact : ,
(tél :

- Captieux and Arjuzanx feeding zone (Solferino-Platiet) in Aquitaine, Contact LPO Aquitaine
(tel :