Common Cranes in France
Migration and Wintering


2008 postnuptial migration    Wintering 2008/2009      2009 prenuptial migration

Phenomenal marathon journeys are undertaken by migrating cranes to their breeding grounds and wintering sites. In France, the principal movements of these birds commence in October, the return journeys starting in February and continuing throughout March. Although migration involves many species, that of the crane is truly spectacular. The calls and size of these untiring birds and their V-shaped long flight patterns across the sky, offer an unforgettable sight to those of us fortunate enough to witness them.

The cranes’ breeding grounds are mainly in Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany. Large flocks of birds gather, prior to their departure to France and Spain (the main migratory route to the west). Other itineraries also exist: to the east, birds return to North Africa via the south of Italy (central route), while others fly to Turkey, over the Black Sea or along the coast (eastern route).

This brochure is designed to provide an overview of the 2008/2009 migratory season in France and of bird numbers involved compared to previous seasons. Our sincere thanks to all who provided us with valuable information concerning their observations and to the members of the French Crane Network (cf list).

  With the exception of a few cranes nesting in the Lorraine region, the first birds were seen in July in the Allier and in the Marne. They were probably non-nesting summer visitors. On August 8th, 350 cranes had gathered on the island of Rügen in Germany, and more unusual for the season, the first crane, possibly a summer visitor, was observed on the Gallocanta wintering sites in Spain! As is the case each year, numbers increased progressively on the Der  lake (51/52) during the month of August: 16 on the 15th and 21 on the 21st. In Rügen, the same phenomenon was noted: 645 on the 14th. Three birds landed in the Aube on August 20th.


(02/09/08 – 15/09/08)



Whereas numbers increased rapidly on the island of Rügen : 6,500 cranes on the 4th and 10,250 on the 11th, bird movements in France were noticeably early : a flock of 25 cranes flew over the Vienne late in the afternoon on the 2nd. The same phenomenon was observed in the Loiret on the 9th, where 2 flocks were seen. Our Belgian friends also witnessed several flights of cranes, a certain number landing. Early on the same day, 25 birds flew over the Yonne and 22 over the Marne during the evening. On the 13th, a small group was seen in the Meurthe-et –Moselle and on the following day, flocks were observed in 6 departments: the Meuse, Aube, Haute-Marne, Nièvre, Indre and the Haute-Vienne, a remarkably early occurrence. Fresh arrivals were seen on the Der lake (51/52) on the 15th, one in the Charente-Maritime and 9 others had already crossed the Pyrénées to Spain via the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and the Haute-Pyrénées. Finally, one crane landed on the Lannemezan plateau (65). These initial movements involved about 500 birds.


(25/09/08 – 13/10/08


On September 24th, a flock of more than 100 cranes was seen in Belgium and on the following day, 36,000 birds landed in Rügen, Germany, while 850 were observed in the Hesse region between 1500 and 1700hrs. More birds arrived in France during the night from the north-east. On the 26th, this first migratory wave spread out in the direction of the south-west: the Yonne, Nièvre, Allier,  Corrèze, Lot-et-Garonne and the Pyrénées-Orientales. Throughout the following days other departments witnessed the arrival of cranes, such as the Aube, Dordogne, Ain, Loire and the Moselle. Numbers were high considering it was still early in the season. On September 28th, 600 migrated to the Nièvre and 460 to the Allier. There were more than 500 cranes on the Der lake (51/52) and 227 on the Gallocanta site in Spain. The first bird landed on the Puydarrieux site (65) on the same day. It was the turn of the Arjuzanx site on the 29th, when 6 birds arrived. These movements continued until October 13th and involved approximately 5,300 cranes.


(18/10/08 – 20/10/08


The first really substantial migratory wave commenced on October 18th when more than 12,000 cranes comprising 80 flights left German soil and 2,600 migrated to the Nièvre. On October 19th, 3,870 birds landed on the wetlands of the Der lake (51/52) while others continued their journey.  Cranes were also seen between the Moselle and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques on the traditional diagonal migratory route.


(22/10/08 – 04/11/08



On October 22nd, a large wave began to build up in Germany and on the following day, 5,000 cranes flew over the Hesse region between 1900 and 0000hrs. On the same day, 25 birds were seen in Tunisia. On the 24th, numbers of flocks in France were on the increase as was the number of birds involved. More than 12,000 left Germany between the 24th and the 25th to be seen later in the Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Auvergne, Limousin and Aquitaine. As usual, a considerable number of cranes flew over the Allier and the Nièvre in one day: respectively 12,400 and 15,500.This autumn, birds were observed for the first time in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Numbers on the Der lake (51/52) illustrated the extent of the migratory waves since 22,150 were counted during the morning of the 26th. The same day, 200 cranes were on the Lachaussée site (55).  About 1,000 were counted at Arjuzanx (40) on October 27th and 30 on the Cousseau site (Gironde) on the 28th. Despite foggy conditions, migration continued, particularly in the Aube on the 29th. Throughout this period, thousands of cranes made their way towards France. Landings increased: 100 in the Val d’Allier on the 30th and 1,000 on the Lachaussée site (55) on November 1st. While on the 2nd, there were 59,000 birds on the Der lake (51/52), the highest count for the season. In the Allier, 3,000 cranes were counted on the banks of the river of the same name and large groups were also observed flying over the Nord. On the 3rd, 4,000 cranes were present on the Lavaud dam (16) and a similar number in the meadows near the Landes lake (23). More than 6,000 birds left the Der lake (51/52) and were later seen flying over Aube. On the 4th, the movement continued progressively towards the south-west. Numbers remained high. The Puydarrieux site (65) was host to 124 cranes. These two waves involved about 83,000 birds.   


(13/10/08 – 25/11/08)



The main autumnal migratory wave commenced on November 13th in Germany between 1330 and 1745hrs involving approximately 30,000 cranes in the Hesse region. As usual, these birds began arriving in the north-east of France in the evening and throughout the night. The following day, a further 10,000 birds left in the direction of France, where some arrivals from the previous day were observed flying in a wide diagonal corridor stretching from the north-east to the Pyrénées. An unprecedented sighting was made in Switzerland on November 15th ….an extremely rare occurrence! November 17th and 18th were undoubtedly the two days when migration was at its peak. On the 17th alone, between 40,000 and 50,000 cranes left Germany. Consequently, the entire migratory network became congested : thousands of birds were seen over Belgium from 1500hrs and Luxemburg was inundated – one observer counted 15,000  in only 1h30! Numbers were also extremely high in France, as for example in the Nièvre (12,500), the Allier (4,000, although many flights were not counted), Puy-de-Dôme (2,100) and the Charente-Maritime (1,500). Flights continued throughout the day on November 19th when the highest number (22,500 birds) was counted from just one observation post in the Haute-Vienne which presupposes an estimated passage of at least 30,000 cranes. Numbers of landings were also markedly high over a wide area: between 50,000 and 60,000 on the Der lake (51/52), 5,000 to 6,000 on the Aube lakes, 1,500 on the Lachaussée site (55), 800 to 1,000 on the Landes pond (87) on the 22nd, 4,000 on the sites in central France on the 23rd , 27,000 at Arjuzanx (40) and 1,265 on the Puydarrieux site (65) on the 25th.

However, on the 24th, many cranes were unable to fly over the Pyrénées due to bad weather and were forced to land here and there. This massive wave involved 92,000 birds.


Map 1 : Total number of cranes migrating between 13th and 25th November 2008.



(7 and 8/12/08)


Although at daybreak on December 7th, 30,800 cranes were still present on the Der lake (51/52), numerous departures were witnessed throughout the morning. Favourable weather conditions were an encouragement. Flights over the Aube were numerous between 1200 and 1300hrs. Birds were later observed in the Nièvre were 6,500 were counted, whereas 2,630 cranes were sighted over the Cher on a completely different migratory route. A maximum of 17,550 birds were present on the Arjuzanx site (40) on December 1st, dwindling to 11,420 on the 8th.


(14/12/08 and 24/12/08 – 31/12/08)

The period between December 8th and 13th was comparatively quiet except for the sites in  Aquitaine where there were still large numbers of birds. The record was broken at the Cousseau site in the Gironde where 630 individuals were seen on the 13th. The following day, 360 cranes arrived in France. Further late arrivals from Germany continued between December 24th and 31st, making a total of 7,000 birds. Large numbers were observed in several departments, particularly on the 26th, when 4,900 cranes were sighted in the Haute-Vienne and close to 3,000 in the Nièvre. The record was also broken on a site in the Cher with some 6,500 birds on the 28th while numbers reached 20,000 at Arjuzanx (40) on December 29th.



(31/12/08 – 02/01/09)


A phenomenon which occurs practically each year but never fails to surprise many people is the criss-crossing of some migratory flights: in fact, while the majority of birds fly towards the south-west, some head in the opposite direction. On December 31st, a group of 60 cranes were flying towards the north-east despite the fact that migration was continuing towards the south-west. On January 1st, groups were also observed in Ardennes, Moselle and the Puy-de-Dôme and on the 2nd, the Marne was also involved. These flights were all the more surprising considering that a spell of cold weather was affecting western Europe at the time.



(06 and 07/01/09)

 Throughout these two days, small flights were observed in the departments of central France, the Charente-Maritime and the Charente. The Haute Vienne and the Dordogne were also concerned. Most of these birds had come from the Der lake.



 During the 2008 postnuptial migration, more than 206,000 cranes were observed in France. This number is higher than that of the previous autumn. It must be emphasized that varying numbers of birds go unrecorded each year due to the fact that migration continues uninterrupted, making recordings after nightfall practically impossible.


2008 postnuptial migration    Wintering 2008/2009      2009 prenuptial migration



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