Protecting Cranes in Europe

Cranes – the dancing heralds of Spring

© Dietmar Nill
© Dietmar Nill

Cranes have long symbolized good luck in many cultures. In their return from their wintering areas they herald springtime: the temperatures rise, the days get longer again and Nature awakes to new life. It is the same with the cranes. There is a spring mood among these elegant great birds as they make their long journey home to their breeding grounds. At the large resting places the air is full of the trumpet-like sound of their calls. It will soon be the mating season. And here and there cranes are already carrying out their impressive courtship “dances”: running in a circle and in zig-zags, leaping into the air with wings widespread, letting out loud calls and tossing bits of plant and other objects up into the air with their beaks.

What route do cranes take?

The European breeding population takes three different routes back to winter quarters. Cranes from the breeding grounds in Finland, Poland and the Baltic, Belorussia and the Ukraine usually take the migratory route that runs from Hungary over the Balkans and the Adriatic Sea to Tunisia (Adriatic Flyway). A second route branches off already in the North and passes from West Russia and East Lithuania over the Crimea and the Black Sea to Israel and Ethiopia (Eastern Flyway). The western route, the so-called Atlantic Migratory Flyway, leads the cranes from the Scandinavian breeding grounds over Germany and France to Spain and North Africa. Depending on the tradition of the older birds, cranes from Estonia, for example, may take any one of the three routes to their winter quarters.



What are the threats to cranes in Europe?

Being ground breeders cranes are exposed to many dangers. To protect their young from natural enemies they build their nests in shallow waters such as swamp forests or silted up lakes and ponds. In the last decades however many wetlands have fallen victim to the rising demand for land used in intensive farming and house building. It is not only in the breeding areas that this loss makes itself felt. In particular along the Adriatic Flyway there are now too few undisturbed resting places where the cranes can pick up energy for the exhausting onward flight. In the last 60 years 80 percent of the resting places on the Adriatic coast have been severely degraded or destroyed. In addition hordes of bird hunters congregate in the few remaining intact resting areas in the Western Balkans to shoot the exhausted birds in a merciless manner.


What actions is EuroNatur taking?

  • Preserving resting places: we are campaigning for the designation of conservation areas along the crane flyway and developing effective protection measures for a trans-boundary  network of secure resting places. Examples are Slano Kopovo in Serbia and Livanjsko Polje in Bosnia.
  • Fighting bird hunting: we put pressure on the decision makers in the countries affected to set up effective measures to prevent bird hunting.
  • Developing alternatives: nature tourism is an attractive alternative to bird hunting and the destruction of habitats. Together with our partners we are developing nature tourism concepts for the resting places of the crane in the east of the Adriatic. We are building on the great success of the bird-watching sites and hides set up in the large crane resting places in Germany.
  • Protecting crane habitats: In model projects as for example in Extremadura and the Sava floodplains we are able to show how agricultural use can be combined with the protection of the cranes' natural habitat requirements.
  • Improving legal underpinning: we are active in political lobbying to support a form of nature-compatible farming which also allows sufficient space for crane habitat.
  • Keeping an eye on the crane population numbers: We regularly carry out counts of the crane population in South East Europe, working with local partners there. The counts form an important basis for developing appropriate protection measures for the cranes and for monitoring the success of these measures.


>>> Read more about the EuroNatur projects for the protection of cranes in Europe

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