Common Cranes in France
Migration and Wintering

2005 postnuptial migration    Wintering 2005-2006      2006 prenuptial migration

The Common Crane is a typical, if somewhat noisy example of migratory birds. The distinctive calls and large migratory flights of these birds have no doubt made this species one of the most popular throughout Europe. The French Common Crane Network comprises 58 organizations and associations (cf. list). The principal migratory route over France consists of a diagonal approximately 100 kms wide, running from the north-east to the Pyrenees. However, Common Cranes may be observed in practically the whole of France. Very few birds nest in France. Those migrating over the country nest in northern and eastern Europe (mainly in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Poland and Germany). In the Autumn, these birds return to their winter sites, mainly in Spain and, to a lesser, but still significant extent, in France. This report includes a brief summary of the 2005-2006 Autumn and Spring migrations and of the wintering of the species in France. This has only been made possible thanks to the help of  the numerous voluntary spotters throughout France. Bird counts in western Europe also include data obtained from Germany and Spain. We extend our grateful thanks to all those who have provided such valuable information. We hope this report will provide you with a useful insight into the migration of this species.

2005 postnuptial migration

Apart from the nesting sites, three departments provided data from the beginning of July: on the 3rd, 2 birds were spotted on a lake in the Haute Marne (52); 5 cranes flew over the Allier (03) on the 8th and 2 birds seen in Champagne on the 3rd, were spotted again on the Der lake and other nearby lakes on the 10th.

 During the month of August, Common Cranes were seen in 4 departments, starting with 1 bird in the Aube (10) on the 10th. Throughout the month, numbers increased progressively in the Marne (51) around the Der lake with 17 birds on Aug.13th and 25 on the 28th. Birds were also seen in the Nièvre (58) with about 10, probably summer visitors, on the 5th. A more unusual occurrence was the flight of 23 birds over the Atlantic Pyrenees (64) on Aug. 22nd. September was noteworthy for the appearance of 5 cranes in the Nièvre (58) on the 5th. Several birds were seen over the Pyrenees (65), the Gironde (33), the Allier (03), the Aube (10) and in the Corrèze (19). On Sept. 23rd, a few migratory flights were observed: 10 in the Seine-et-Marne (77) and 6 in the Moselle (57). Two days later, 25 migrated in the Marne (51), while in the same department, numbers on the Der lake continued to increase gradually, amounting to 42 birds at the end of the month. For this period, total numbers amounted to about 210 Common Cranes.

First small wave


Starting after nightfall on Oct.5th, several flights were heard over the Marne (51), the Haute Marne (52) and the Moselle (54), accounting for the arrival of about 1,000 cranes on the banks of the Der lake (51-52) on the following day. A relatively high figure for this period. Movements intensified on Oct. 7th, when numerous flights from Germany and Luxemburg were seen over the Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne. Several hundred cranes flew over the Haute Marne (52) on Oct. 8th. In central France, flights were observed in the Nièvre (58), the Cher (18), the Allier (03) and the Puy-de-Dome (63). On Oct. 9th, there were already more than 7,800 cranes on the Der lake, an exceptionally high number for the season. The fine weather prevailing over France encouraged the cranes to continue their journey towards the south-west. Consequently, flights were seen not only in the north of the Auvergne, the Limousin region and the Vienne (86) but also to the west of the Pyrenees. On the following day (Oct. 10th), the same areas were concerned plus the Gironde (33) and the Charente-Maritime (17). These first significant waves came to an end on Oct. 11th and totalled 12,000 birds.

First large wave


From Oct. 15th, weather conditions in Sweden (temperatures nearing 0°C and very favourable winds) encouraged more than 20,000 cranes to migrate in the direction of Germany. At about 16.00 hrs, birds were arriving on the Rügen in Germany, while, from daybreak, many flights were leaving Germany in the direction of France. At the same time, numbers on the Der lake had dwindled prior to the arrival of the flights from Germany. On Oct. 16th and 17th, impressive migratory flights were witnessed over France. At least 26 departments sent us relevant data. For instance, the Aube (10), with more than 10,000 cranes, the Nièvre (58) 18,000 and the Puy-de-Dome (63) with more than 11,500. Flight density can be appreciated by the fact 1,150 birds flying over the Marne (51) were counted in the space of 5 minutes. Flights over the Hesse region (Germany) continued with 48,500 cranes heralding massive migratory flights over France the following day. On Oct. 17th, numbers were even more remarkable, 10 departments recording more than 1,000 cranes. Frequently, numbers were even higher: 20,000 birds were counted in the Haute-Vienne (87), the Creuse (23) and in the Cher (18). More than 34,000 cranes flew over the Allier and, in the Nièvre, no less than 47,000 birds were recorded! During the same period, the first arrivals were seen in the Aiguillon bay in the Vendée (85). Numbers on the Der lake bore witness to the extent of this wave, since 50,000 birds were counted during the morning. Little by little, the wave dispersed towards the south-west. Thousands of birds crossed over the Pyrenees towards Spain on Oct. 19th. Throughout these 5 days, about 116,000 birds flew over the country.





Map 1: Total number of Common Cranes counted between
October 15th and 19th 2005

The”breathing space”


Migratory flights between Oct. 20th and 22nd were few and far between, involving only a handful of departments. On Oct. 21st, 800 cranes landed on a staging site in the Charente (16). Nothing worthy of mention was reported on Oct. 23rd with 16 departments reporting flights, mainly in central France: the Limousin, the Allier (03), the Vienne (86), the Cher (18), etc. These sightings concerned birds leaving Champagne where numbers remained extremely high with more than 51,000 birds on the Der lake (51-52). On the same day, 98 cranes were seen on the Puydarrieux lake (65) and 300 on the Lachaussée pond (55). The weather remained fine until Oct. 27th and migratory movements were minimal. On Oct. 27th, 4,650 cranes landed in Arjuzanx (40). During this period, only 100 birds arrived from Germany.

New movements


Following a fairly quiet period lasting about a week, fresh movements were observed in the Hesse region in Germany. In all, roughly 2,400 cranes were counted towards the end of the afternoon on Oct. 28th. These birds arrived in France via Belgium early on Oct. 29th. During the same day, some cranes left Champagne and were observed chiefly in the Cher (18) with 2,750 birds. On Oct. 30th, more than 6,200 cranes left Germany, heading for France and comprising 21 separate flights. Some of the 35,500 birds on the Der lake (51-52) also left during the morning. Observers on the main migratory route were treated to an impressive spectacle, particularly in the Yonne (89) with 4,200 birds.  Once again, the Cher (18) was the setting for substantial flights of about 5,200 cranes. Even in departments where flights are infrequent, some birds were seen: the Loire (42), the Ardèche (07) and the Ariège (09). Approximately 5,900 cranes arrived on the Arjuzanx site (40) early in the morning on Oct. 31st.  At the same time, migration continued, but to a lesser extent, until Nov. 1st. Throughout these 4 days, 11,000 cranes left Germany, heading for France.

Departures from the Der lake


Departures from the Der lake (51/52) involved a large number of cranes estimated at about 38,700 birds. Most of them (between 15,000 and 20,000) headed towards the south-west. Flights were seen in several departments : between 6,000 and 8,000 cranes over the lakes in the Aube (10) between  2,500 and 5,000 over the Yonne (89), about 9,000 in the Cher (18) and approximately 15,000 in the Nièvre (58).

Second wave and fresh departures from the Der lake


Numbers remained fairly stable on the Der lake despite the fact that movements were frequent. Departures in the direction of Aquitaine were offset by arrivals from Germany. Thus, numbers on the lake were estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000 birds. At least 10,000 left and were sighted over the Aube (10), the Nièvre (58) and the Cher (18). During this period, the third largest migratory wave began in Germany:  23,000 cranes flew over the Hesse region at the end of the morning. Most of these birds arrived in Champagne. At least 24,000 individuals were involved in this 2nd wave.

Small wave


Two distinct movements were observed throughout these two days. The first, during the afternoon, from the Hesse region in Germany and comprising 2,900 birds. The second, a large flight from Champagne, was witnessed by numerous spotters in the following regions: the Aube (10) where at least 7,000 cranes were seen despite a thick fog, followed by 18,000 birds in the Cher (18).The flight over the Haute-Vienne was short-lived but substantial: 14,000 in the space of half-an-hour correlated with numbers leaving Champagne in the morning. Thus, the average flight speed corresponds to 50 km/hr. A group of cranes which had arrived in Champagne the previous day, left the region on the following day. This was confirmed by the fact that only 14,000 birds remained on the Der lake (51/52) as opposed to 38,700 on Nov. 6th.   On the same day, 2,000 cranes migrated to the Charente (16) and 50 to the Jura (39). The small wave described above involved 2,000 birds.

Final large wave


The night of Nov. 16th-17th marked the prelude to the last significant day in the 2005 postnuptial migratory season. The first flights concerned the departments in north-eastern France: the lower Rhine (67), the Moselle (57), the Meurthe-et-Moselle (54), the Meuse (55) and the Haute Marne (52). From Nov. 20th, movements were more noticeable. Cold weather had started to set in over the north-east. On that day, migrating cranes were observed over 18 departments. Once again, the largest flights were seen over the Nièvre (58), amounting to 9,000 birds. In the Cher (18), numbers reached 5,800, whereas the Captieux camp (33/40) was host to 1,500 birds. The last sizeable departure from Germany took place on the following day. More than 38,000 cranes flew over the Hesse region, heading for France. The Arjuzanx site accounted for 10,000 birds. On Nov. 20th, cranes were reported in the following department: the Nièvre (58) 2,000, the Allier (03) 15,000, more than 1,000 in the Haute-Vienne (87), the Creuse (23) 3,500 and in the Dordogne (24) 4,000. At the end of this period, 10,000 cranes were counted on the Der lake (51/52). This wave involved 45,000 birds.

Map 2: Total number of Common Cranes counted between
November 16th and 22nd 2005

Arrivals from Germany and departures from Champagne


On Dec. 2nd, numbers were increasing on the Arjuzanx site (40) due to the arrival of cranes from Champagne. At the same time, migration from Germany began again on a low-key level. Small flights of birds arrived from Germany during the night of Dec. 9th/10th and numbers on the Der lake had substantially increased by Dec. 10th. Several thousand cranes arrived in the morning, some of which landed in the vicinity of the Der lake, whilst others continued their route to the south. More than 2,000 birds flew over the Nièvre (58). On the same day, 750 cranes arrived on the Lachaussée site (55). On Dec. 11th, 1,200 individuals crossed over the Cher (18) and 2,400 in the Haute-Vienne (87). Many cranes flying over France during this period, landed on the Arjuzanx site (40). On Dec. 15th, 20,000 individuals were counted on this site. Flights to the south-west involved 5,200 birds.

Final flights: cold weather forces the Common Cranes to fly to the south (2nd fortnight in December)

The cold weather in Europe prompted the cranes to leave for the south. During the last two weeks in December, around 2,000 cranes were observed migrating. Finally, the last migrants were seen up to January 20th. Approximately 800 birds were reported in the Nièvre (58) over a period of 7 days.

2005 postnuptial migration overview

In France, flights totalling 218,000 cranes were involved in the 2005 postnuptial migration, topping the previous record of Autumn 2004 (210,000). This result substantiates the considerable increase in population figures between 2003 and 2004 and confirms habits which  were already manifest in Autumn 2004 : the birds have become accustomed to landing on the Der lake and are inclined to fly over France during the night, especially in October. Consequently, the departments situated to the south-west of the Der lake have registered record numbers of migratory cranes: more than 156,000 for the Nièvre department alone (record number). Data concerning migration gathered by the French Common Crane Network and the many spotters throughout the country has proved to be extremely useful. The Common Crane is, in fact, one of the bird species with the most comprehensive follow-up.

2005 postnuptial migration    Wintering 2005-2006      2006 prenuptial migration



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