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Migration of cranes in Europe

Cranes that breed in Europe use different migration routes on their way to the wintering grounds depending on the location of their breeding area.

In Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, parts of Finland), central Europe (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic) as well as the Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania, western Estonia) breeding cranes use the western European flyway, which leads to wintering areas in France and Spain after stopovers in Germany. In the last years an increasing trend of shorter migrations routes and a shift to the north of the overwintering grounds can be determined.

The majority of the Finnish cranes as well as many breeding cranes of middle- and eastern Estonia use the Baltic-Hungarian flyway. This route is directed southwards to begin with and leads to stopover sites in eastern Hungary and northern Serbia. In favourable weather conditions a noteworthy part of the cranes overwinters in this region while numerous birds migrate even further to northern Africa via Italy. Many birds overwinter in Tunisia, even though the North African winter area reaches form Libya to Morocco. An increasing part of the birds that rest in Hungary migrates to the west via northern Italy to wintering grounds in southern France (Camargue). At the same time more and more colour-marked cranes from Finland and Estonia have been identified in Germany which shows a present large-scale displacement of birds of the Baltic - Hungarian flyway, when seen in connection with a significant rise of the autumn resting population in Germany.

In contrast cranes that breed near the Russian border in the southeast of Finland, in eastern Estonia and in western Russia use the eastern European flyway across the Black Sea and Turkey to Israel. While a small part overwinters here, most cranes continue their route to wintering grounds in eastern Africa (especially Ethiopia).

In the far east of Europe the Volga - Iranian - flyway exists where birds of the Caspian region travel to wintering grounds in Iran.

At least for the birds of the West European flyway a decrease in migratory behavior can be described the further west the cranes breed in central Europe. So a significant part of the birds that breed in North-West Germany remains near the breeding areas in the winter. This behavior can be observed to an increasing extent in cranes from northeast Germany, where individual couples either overwinter near the breeding areas or briefly escape to the west in late autumn and already return to the breeding grounds in winter. In England breeding cranes don´t show any migratory behavior and overwinter in the surroundings of their breeding grounds.

The migration route to the wintering grounds in autumn and on the return trip to the breeding grounds in spring hardly differ from each other since the same stopover sites are often used. The spring migration is often faster in order for the cranes to return to their breeding areas more quickly.

Migration routes over Germany

Solely birds from the western European flyway migrate over Germany. Nevertheless different migration corridors on the way to or from the wintering grounds have developed according to breeding origin and choice of resting areas.

Birds from Sweden and Norway migrate south via southern Sweden and the Baltic Sea in autumn to resting areas in the Darß-Zingst Bodden chain and island Rügen. From here most birds fly south west in order to make a stopover in the Diepholzer Moorniederung in north western Germany. After that the normal migration takes place nonstop across the Ruhr district, the western Rhineland-Palatinate and Luxembourg to resting areas in north eastern France (especially Lac du Der). Breeding birds from west and north Mecklenburg-West Pomerania also use this migration route.

Cranes that rest in the Müritz region as well as in northwestern Brandenburg often migrate in a corridor between Hannover and Göttingen then across northern Hesse and the northern Rhineland-Palatinate and cross the Saarland and Luxembourg on their journey to northeastern France.

Birds from the resting area Rhin-Havelluch (with the resting place Linum) and further stopover sites around Berlin migrate southwestwards and often make a short stopover in the area of the reservoir Berga-Kelbra near the Kyffhäuser mountains so as to migrate to France via Hesse, eastern Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland. Beside birds of the breeding population in Brandenburg and inland West Pomerania mainly breeding cranes from Poland, the Baltic States and Finland follow that route.

In southern Brandenburg and Saxony resting cranes most likely fly across the Straußfurt retention basin in direction of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. Birds from the small Czech population, that first take a rest in the Oberlausitz in eastern Saxony and in the southernmost part of Brandenburg are also part of this migration.

In the last couple of years a new migration route has developed in southern Germany (Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg) where several thousands of cranes already fly across the northern Alp foreland to the west in direction of France.

On the return trip from the wintering grounds on the way to the breeding grounds similar migration routes are often used.

In many parts of Germany transit in autumn can be especially observed in the months of October and November and in spring in February and March. The so-called mass migration days often take place on a few days with optimal weather conditions. High pressure weather conditions and backwind support these mass migration days.

© NABU-Crane Centre
© Crane Conservation Germany 2017

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