Common Cranes in France
Migration and Wintering


2006 postnuptial migration    Wintering 2006-2007      2007 prenuptial migration

For several centuries and until the mid nineteen-sixties, crane numbers underwent a dramatic decline throughout Europe. Contributing factors were widespread persecution and the destruction of wetlands which no doubt played a major role. Classification of the common crane as a protected species, the creation of suitable migratory sites and improvements in agricultural methods have all facilitated a significant rise in crane populations. Consequently, between the beginning of the eighties and the present day, numbers have increased fourfold, which illustrates the efficiency of a well-planned protection programme. Nevertheless, it is important to keep a close watch on the situation, since the concentration of large numbers of birds on a limited number of sites is detrimental to the species. Consequently, should conditions on one of these sites deteriorate, repercussions on the birds would be dramatic. Other dangers threaten the species: drainage and overexploitation of Scandinavian forests (nesting sites), high tension electric cables, fright (or even collision) caused by wind turbines, disturbance on sites, intensive agriculture in Spain (wintering zone)….and finally, the risk of epidemics may not be disregarded where bird populations are subject to overcrowding on small sites.

This report sums up the 2006-2007 migration which was made possible largely thanks to the help of the many observers throughout France and in neighbouring countries, as well as that of the French Crane Network which includes the 59 organizations interested in this species (cf. list).

2006 postnuptial migration

Apart from a few locations used as nesting sites, several departments reported sighting cranes during the summer: 1 bird in the Nièvre (58) at the end of June, 3 on two different sites in the Cher (18) and 12 on the Der lake on July 8th. A flight of 30 birds was seen over the Allier (03) on Aug. 25th. At the beginning of September, 1 individual was spotted in the Charente-Maritime (17) and on Sept. 6th, there were 28 birds on the Der lake (51-52). Several small, isolated flights were recorded throughout the month: 12 cranes in the Seine-et-Marne (77) on Sept. 17th, 9 in the Haute-Vienne (87) and 1 in the Loir-et-Cher (41) on the same day. On Sept. 19th, 6 birds had already been seen in Estremadura (south-west Spain): early arrivals, since cranes normally arrive around Oct. 15th! Several flights were reported between Sept. 21st and Oct. 9th : in the Cher (18), the Bas-Rhin (67), the Yonne (89), the Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), the Haute-Vienne (87), the Nièvre (58), the Vienne (86), the Creuse (23), the Puy-de-Dôme (63), the Allier (03) and the Loir-et-Cher (41).The first crane arrived on the Puydarrieux lake (65) on Sept. 28th . In all, 650 cranes were involved in these initial flights.

 First wave
(10.10.06 – 18.10.06)

The 2006-2007 migration began in real earnest on Oct. 8th. During the evening, 1,700 birds left Germany, heading for France. On the same day, 2 birds flew over a department where the species is rarely seen: the Ain (01). Migration was confirmed in Champagne on the following day, when more than 1,000 cranes arrived on the Der lake (51/52) and 300 on the Temple lake (10). The same day, 10,000 more birds left Germany. Some individuals were seen over Paris in the Belleville quarter, while others were reported in the Drôme (20). Flights continued throughout the following days, many departments as far away as the Aquitaine witnessing flights coming from the north-east. On Oct. 13th, several birds were seen over the Val-de-Marne (94) and the Aude (11), while larger flights totalling 3,000 cranes were observed in the Allier (03). On the following day, 1,900 birds were reported flying over the Corrèze (19), 4,900 over the Nièvre (58) and more than 6,000 in the Haute-Vienne (87). The first cranes arrived on the Arjuzanx (40) site, several birds in the Isere (38) and others in the Gard (30). During the night of Oct. 13th, birds were heard over Bordeaux (33) and on Oct. 15th, it was the turn of the Cousseau (33) site to record the arrival of the first birds. Volunteers from the OCL also informed us that 1,500 cranes had flown over the cols in the Pyrenees (64) on the same day. Several individuals were reported over the Saône-et-Loire (71) on the 16th, and more than 500 arrived on the Arjuzanx (40) site. October 17th was another important day for migration, since more than 11,000 cranes left Germany. These flights mostly concerned the departments in eastern France, such as the Doubs (25). However, birds were also seen in departments further to the west, including the Sarthe (72), the Essonne (91), the Loiret (45), the Loir-et Cher (41) and even in the Bouches-du-Rhône (13). By the end of this first wave, there were about 20,000 cranes on the Der lake (51/52). In all, the first chapter of the migration involved some 37,000 birds

Map 1: Total number of Common Cranes counted between
October 10th and 18th 2006

Departures from the Der lake and random arrivals from Germany
(27, 30 and 31.10.06) 

There was a lull in migratory flights between October 19th and 26th. For the record, several cranes stopped to admire the scenery in the Haute-Savoie (74)! More than 27,000 birds were now on the Der lake (51/52). The majority left the region on Oct. 13th. Thus, the departments to the south-west of Champagne recorded impressive numbers of birds, in particular in the Haute-Vienne (87) with 15,000 individuals. A rare sight worth noting was a large flock of birds seen the following day over the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04). In fact, on Oct. 31st, fewer than 1,000 cranes remained on the Der lake (51/52). A record going back over 15 years for this period! About 6,000 birds arrived in France between October 22nd and 31st.

Largest migratory wave
(1.11.06 – 12.11.06)


Initial flights for Autumn 2006 began unobtrusively on Nov. 1st.  Several hundred birds were observed leaving Germany but during the night of Nov. 2nd, events began to take shape with 14,000 cranes heading for France at about 3 a.m., flying over the Lorraine, the Bas-Rhin (67) and Champagne. Some continued their journey towards the south-west. On Nov. 3rd, departures from Germany began in earnest. No fewer than 446 flocks, totalling 81,500 cranes were observed about to set off on their journey to France! Some departments witnessed large numbers of birds, such as the Nièvre (58) with 20,000 on Nov. 4th. Amid all this flurry of activity, numbers on the ‘stop-over’ sites increased significantly: Nov. 4th - 1,700 in Lachaussée (55), Nov. 8th - 3,000 on the Temple lake (10), Nov. 9th - 11,200 in Arjuzanx and 1,300 on the site in the Vienne (86) on the same day. The figures for Nov. 5th on the Der lake are worth analysing. There were only 26,000 cranes on that day, which, taking into account the scale of the migration, shows beyond doubt that many cranes had continued their journey without stopping on the wetlands in Champagne. During these 12 days, it is estimated that 103,000 birds took part in this particular phase.

Map 2: Total number of Common Cranes between
November 1st and 12th 2006

Further migratory wave
(24.11.06 – 3.12.06)


Following a relatively quiet period, punctuated by several days of heightened activity, a fresh migratory wave commenced on Nov. 24th when, until Nov. 26th, several hundred cranes left Germany, followed by thousands more between Nov. 27th and Dec. 2nd. This wave was discernible in the Vosges (88), the Aisne (02), the Ardennes (08) and even in the Charente (16). Largest numbers were to be found in the departments situated in the heart of the main migratory route: in the Nievre, 10,100 birds were recorded on Nov. 28th and 11,300 on the following day. In the Yonne, 2,500 were seen on Nov. 28th and 11,900 on the Arjuzanx site on Nov. 30th. At the end of this period, 382 cranes arrived on the Puydarrieux lake (65). At least 55,000 birds were involved in this phase.

Departures from Germany
(10/12/06 and 11/12/06)

During these two days, 1,700 cranes left Germany and were later observed in north-east France: in the Yonne (89), 12,800 birds were recorded on Nov. 11th alone, some of which had come from Germany and the remainder no doubt from the Der lake (51/52). Three cranes were observed as far away as Morocco.

Departures from Champagne
(14.12.06 – 16.12.06)

A large number of cranes left Champagne during these three days. Departments to the south-east reported these flights. Numbers on active migration were highest on Dec. 15th. For instance, 10,000 birds in the Cher (18) and about 15,000 in the Nièvre (58). The cranes continued to head for the south-west on Dec. 10th. In all, numbers amounted to 12,000 cranes.

Further departures from Germany
(19 - 21.12.06 et 26 - 27/12/06)

The final sizeable movement of the 2006 postnuptial migration occurred during this period. A total of close to 500 cranes returned to France in the space of 9 days. Numbers on the Arjuzanx site had reached 18,500 by Dec. 21st. On the other side of the Pyrenees, in Spain, the Gallocanta region was host to 10,000 birds and that of Estremadura, close on 6,500 individuals.

Late unexpected wave
(24 - 27.01.07)

Several flocks of cranes, heading for the south-west, were reported in central France between Jan. 11th and 21st 2007. From Jan. 23rd, departures from the wintering region of Diepholz in Germany gave rise to a late migratory wave: more than 2,000 cranes were seen in central France (Allier, Nièvre and Cher) over a period of 4 days, particularly on Jan. 26th.  Some of these birds crossed over France, while others halted their journey, notably in central France. This was borne out by 3 separate checks of ringed birds! These individuals remained for almost a month.

2006 postnuptial migration overview

In the course of the 2006 postnuptial migration, 204,000 cranes were reported on active migration in France. This figure is slightly less than that of the previous year but it is nevertheless an extremely high count. The large number of staging sites in Champagne and the many migratory flights during daylight hours in October facilitated recordings throughout the country. As, for instance, in the Nièvre, where more than 115,000 cranes were counted, ranking this season into third place behind 2004 and 2005.

2006 postnuptial migration    Wintering 2006-2007      2007 prenuptial migration



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