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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Eurasian Crane

(Grus grus)

JPG-Eurasian Crane

Population Numbers and Trends
Conservation Status
Historic and Present Distribution
Distribution by Country
Habitat and Ecology
Principal Threats
Current Conservation Measures
Priority Conservation Measures


The Eurasian Crane is the third most abundant species of crane after the Sandhill and Demoiselle Crane. The total population, estimated at between 220,000 and 250,000, is probably increasing, although some populations are declining. As no coordinated survey has been carried out throughout the entire species’ range, this assessment should be considered tentative. The species is not globally threatened, but does have special protected status in many countries. The species is classified Lower Risk (Least Concern) under the revised IUCN Red List Categories. Breeding populations in European Russia and central Siberia are classified Vulnerable, while small populations in Turkey and the Tibetan Plateau are classified Data Deficient.

The species’ breeding range extends from northern and western Europe across Eurasia to northern Mongolia, northern China, and eastern Siberia, with isolated breeding populations in eastern Turkey and Tibet. The winter range includes portions of France and the Iberian Peninsula, north and east Africa, the Middle East, India, and southern and eastern China. The species continues to occupy most of its historic range, but over the last 200-400 years it has been extirpated as a breeding species in southern and western Europe, the Balkan Peninsula, and southern Ukraine.

The Eurasian Crane nests primarily in bogs, sedge meadows, and other wetland types within Eurasia’s boreal and temperate forest zones. Under natural conditions, they prefer large, isolated nesting territories. However, in intensively cultivated areas they have adapted to using smaller and less wild wetlands. During migration, they forage in agricultural fields, pastures, and meadows, and roost in shallow lakes, bogs, rivers, along the edges of reservoirs, and in other wetlands. The widely scattered wintering grounds include a wide spectrum of upland and wetland habitats, from open oak woodlands in the Iberian Peninsula to shallow lakes, agricultural fields, and deltaic wetlands in China. They are omnivorous, foraging in wetlands, on dry land, and in agricultural fields for a wide variety of plant and animal foods.

Habitat loss and degradation are the principal threats to the species. Wetlands have been lost to drainage, dams, and other forms of development throughout the breeding range (particularly in Europe, European Russia, and central Asia) as well as along migration routes and in wintering areas. Although they have adapted to human settlement in many areas, continuing changes in land use and agricultural production methods (such as expanded irrigation and conversion of traditional pastures) also have negative impacts. Human disturbance and collision with utility lines are problems in Europe and other heavily developed portions of the species’ range. Hunting is a significant concern for the populations that migrate through Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Conservation measures have been undertaken most intensively in the western portions of the species’ range. In western and central Europe, the species has benefitted from legal protection, systematic research and monitoring programs, creation and restoration of wetlands, and protection of important staging areas, roosting sites, and wintering grounds. Information about migration patterns is available due to color banding programs and regular observations along the migration routes. International cooperation has played an important role in promoting these measures. In the last decade, such cooperation has expanded into Eastern Europe, where the species has been under greater threat due to recent economic changes. Conservation efforts have been less focused in eastern Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In these areas, however, the Eurasian Crane often shares habitats with other crane species and in many cases has benefitted from conservation actions undertaken on their behalf.

Priority conservation measures for the species include: adoption of the Ramsar Convention in all range countries; stronger legal protection for cranes and crane habitats; expanded international research, monitoring, and conservation programs; establishment of protected areas at key breeding, staging, and wintering areas; broad-scale wetland protection and restoration programs (especially in Europe); expanded efforts to survey and census populations; research on the number, status, distribution, migration routes, and breeding and wintering areas of the main populations; field studies of the isolated populations in the Tibetan Plateau and Turkey; establishment of a central database to maintain information on the species; coordinated efforts to address crop depredation problems; training programs for volunteers working in protected areas established for cranes; and expanded education programs for students and the general public.

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In the past the Eurasian Crane was split into two subspecies, G. g. grus (the western Eurasian Crane) and G. g. lilfordi (the eastern Eurasian Crane). This classification, however, is no longer generally accepted. The species was originally divided on the basis of variations in plumage color. It has since been determined that these variations were due in part to differences in feather-painting behavior. Seven main breeding populations have been identified (see below).

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Population Numbers and Trends

Population Number Trend Source
Western Europe 60-70,000 Stable to increasing Muñoz-Pulido 1995,
Alonso et al. 1995,
Prange 1995
Eastern Europe >60,000 Stable to increasing Prange 1994, 1995
H. Prange pers. comm.
European Russia     approx. 35,000     Declining Markin and Sotnikova 1995,
Y. Markin pers. comm.
Turkey 200-500 Declining van der Ven 1981,
J. van der Ven pers. comm.
Western Siberia approx. 55,000 Declining Markin and Sotnikova 1995,
Y. Markin pers. comm.,
J. van der Ven pers. comm.
C Siberia/N China     5,000 Declining Wang F. 1991,
Ma 1995,
Degtyaryev and Labutin 1995
Tibetan Plateau 1000? Probably stable J. Harris pers. comm.
Total 220-250,000 Increasing overall,
but with local declines    

The population numbers presented here should be considered tentative. Only in Europe and the central part of European Russia have populations been reliably surveyed and monitored on a regular basis. Trends in the populations are poorly understood. The total population is probably stable to increasing, with declines in some local populations (especially in the central and eastern portions of the range). In northeastern China, the Eurasian Crane was once a common breeding resident; it now occurs only rarely. Other populations, such as the West European, have increased steadily in recent years (but see note1 below).

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Conservation Status

IUCN category     Lower Risk (Least Concern)
CITES Appendix II

The species is also included in Appendix I of Birds Directive 79/409/EEC, Appendix II of the Bonn Convention, and Appendix II of the Bern Convention.

Population IUCN Category
Western Europe Lower Risk (Least Concern)
Eastern Europe Lower Risk (Least Concern)
European Russia Vulnerable, under criteria
Turkey Data Deficient
Western Siberia Lower Risk (Near Threatened)
C Siberia/N China     Vulnerable, under criteria
A1   C1
Tibetan Plateau Data Deficient

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Historic and Present Distribution

GIF-Distribution Map

The Eurasian Crane is the most widely distributed of the fifteen crane species. The breeding range extends across Eurasia from Scandinavia, Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Belorus, and Russia to western and northeastern China, northern Mongolia, and eastern Russia. The species’ wintering grounds include portions of France, the Iberian Peninsula, north Africa, Sudan, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, India, southeastern China, and perhaps Indochina. Isolated breeding populations occur in eastern Turkey and the Tibet Plateau. The Eurasian Crane has also been recorded as an occasional migrant or wintering bird in Japan, the Korean peninsula, and western North America.

The species continues to occupy most of its historic breeding range. Over the last 200-400 years, however, it has disappeared as a breeding bird in western and southern Europe, the Balkan Peninsula, and southern Ukraine, due mainly to the loss of breeding habitat (van der Ven 1981, Prange 1994). The species disappeared as a regular breeder in the British Isles about 1650; in France, Greece, and Italy in the 1700s; and in Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and portions of Germany and Poland in the 1800s (Prange 1989, J. van der Ven pers. comm.). Scattered breeding pairs continued to be recorded in many of these countries until the mid-1900s. Since the 1960s, the species has been able to return to some portions of its Central European breeding range (Johnsgard 1983, Prange 1994). The species is divided here into seven main breeding populations:

  1. Western Europe population

    The population’s breeding grounds are in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic states, northeastern Germany, Poland, and possibly western Russia (Prange 1989, Swanberg and Bylin 1993, Prange 1994). A few pairs have recently nested in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, and the United Kingdom (Moreau 1990, Prange 1994). The population migrates southwest along and across the Baltic Sea, through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and eastern and southern France to wintering grounds in France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco (Swanberg 1986-87, Rinne 1995, Prange 1995). Important staging and resting areas include Lake Hornborga (Sweden), the Rügen-Bock region (Germany), Camp du Poteau and Lac du Der-Chantecoq (France), and Laguna de Gallocanta (Spain). In the mid-1970s, significant numbers of cranes began to winter in France (during mild winters, cranes may also remain at several important resting places in Germany). Since the 1960s, habitat has diminished throughout this population’s range, but surveys at the staging areas and wintering grounds show an apparent increase in the population1 (Alonso and Alonso 1990; Alonso et al. 1995; Muñoz-Pulido 1995; Prange 1989, 1995).

  2. Eastern Europe population

    The main breeding grounds are in Finland and the Baltic states (where mixing between the Western and Eastern Europe populations occurs), eastern Poland, western Russia, and Belarus. Birds from the westernmost portion of this breeding range migrate via Estonia to the Iberian wintering grounds of the West European population. Some birds follow a loop migration around the Baltic Sea to and from Iberia, flying over Finland in the autumn and over Sweden in the spring (Rinne 1995, J. Rinne pers. comm.). The majority of the population, however, migrates south into Slovakia and Hungary. Hungary’s Hortobagy National Park protects a major staging area (more than 65,000 birds) (Fintha 1993, 1995). About one-third of the birds that rest in Hungary continue southwest across the southern tip of Italy and over the Mediterranean Sea to wintering grounds in Tunisia, Algeria, and possibly Libya (el-Hili 1995, Rinne 1995, Newton in press a, H. Prange pers. comm., J. Rinne pers. comm.). The migration route(s) of the remainder of the population have not yet been identified. However, in March 1995 a crane banded in Finland was recovered in Ethiopia, providing the first positive evidence that birds from this population winter in east Africa (J. Rinne pers. comm.).

    More than 9,000 wintering Eurasian Cranes were counted in Ethiopia during the 1994 African Waterfowl Census (Taylor and Rose 1994).

  3. European Russia population

    The breeding grounds are in Russia west of the Ural Mountains, and Belarus and Ukraine (mostly east of the Dnieper River). The birds of this population migrate around the Black Sea through Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, or through Sivash Bay and Crimea and across the Black Sea and Turkey to wintering grounds in Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Ethiopia (van der Berk et al. 1986, Grinchenko 1988a, Newton in press a). Some birds from this population may also follow the loop migration around the Baltic Sea (J. Rinne pers. comm.). Several thousand migrate east of the Black Sea to wintering grounds in Iran and Iraq (Newton in press a).

  4. Turkey population

    Information on the size, distribution, status, and movements of this population is extremely limited. Occasional pairs from the population have bred in neighboring Georgia (Abuladze 1995). These birds likely migrate with those of the European Russia population (see van der Berk et al. 1986).

  5. Western Siberia population

    The breeding grounds are east of the Ural Mountains in Russia and northern Kazakhstan. According to many reports, the population is declining in many regions (J. van der Ven pers. comm.). The majority of birds in the population follow a migration corridor southwest toward Afghanistan, and then southeast across Pakistan to wintering grounds in western and central India (Ahmad and Shah 1991, Khachar et al. 1991, Gole 1993a, Higuchi et al. 1994a). A smaller portion of the population migrates through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to wintering grounds along the Iran-Afghanistan border, especially in the valley of the Hamluth River and the Seistan Basin. Some may migrate across the Tibetan Plateau and through Nepal to wintering areas in east India (the Brahmaputra Basin).

  6. Central Siberia and Northern China population

    The breeding grounds are in south-central and eastern Siberia, Yakutia, and northern China. The population migrates across China to widely scattered wintering areas in southeastern China (Wang F. 1991; Ma 1991, 1995).

  7. Tibetan Plateau population

    The size and distribution of this population are poorly known. The breeding grounds are in Xinjiang and Qinghai Provinces of the northwestern Tibetan Plateau (Zhang 1994). The population presumably migrates to India.

1J. Alonso and J. Alonso(pers. comm.) note that increases in the West European population are "probably due to a reduction in adult mortality as a consequence of protection measures," but that "annual recruitment rates within the population apparently show a decreasing trend through the last 15 years." It is also possible that improved census procedures, as well as the current higher concentration of cranes at stopover and wintering areas, have contributed to an apparent "increase" in the population. Definitive identification of the trend in the population will require a longer series of acurate censuses.

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Distribution by Country

Afghanistan* M, W
Albania M
Algeria W
Armenia M
Azerbaijan M
Austria M, X(b)
Bangladesh W(?)
Belgium M
Bhutan M(?), W (occasional)
Bosnia-Herzegovina     M
Bulgaria M, X(b)
Belgium M
Belarus B, M
Cambodia X(w?)
Canada V
Chad W(?)
China* B, W
Croatia* M
Cyprus M
Czech Republic B (occasional), M
Denmark B (rare), M
Egypt* M, X(w?)
Eritrea M
Estonia* B, M
Ethiopia* W
Finland* B
France* B (rare), M, W
Georgia B (rare), M
Germany* B, M, W (rare)
Greece M, X(b)
Hungary* M, X(b)
India* W
Iraq* W
Iran* W
Israel* M, W
Italy M, W (occasional), X(b)
Japan V
Jordan M, W
Kazakhstan* B, M
Kirghizia M
Korea, North V
Korea, South V
Kuwait M(?)
Laos X(w?)
Latvia* B, M
Lebanon M
Libya W?
Lithuania* B, M
Luxembourg* M
Macedonia M
Malta M
Moldova B(?), M
Mongolia* B, M
Morocco* W
Myanmar W
Nepal M
Netherlands M
Niger V
Nigeria V
Norway B
Oman V
Pakistan* M, W
Poland* B, M
Portugal* W
Qatar W(?)
Romania B (rare), M
Russia* B, M
Saudi Arabia W
Slovakia M, X(b)
Slovenia M
Spain* M, W, X(r)
Sudan* W
Sweden* B
Switzerland M (occasional)
Syria M, W
Tadzhikistan M
Thailand X(w?)
Tunisia* W
Turkey* B, M, W
Turkmenistan M
Ukraine* B, M
United Arab Emirates     V
United Kingdom B (rare)
United States V
Uzbekistan M
Vietnam X(w)
Western Sahara V
Yugoslavia M
* = indicates countries where the birds occur in significant
        numbers at some point in the year
B = Present during breeding season
M = Present during migration
        (breeding and wintering in other countries)
W = present during winter
V = Vagrant
X = Extirpated: (b) as a breeding species; (m) as a migrant;
        (w) as a wintering species; (r) as a permanent resident
? = Unconfirmed

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Habitat and Ecology

JPG-Pair with chicks, Sweden

The Eurasian Crane breeds in wetlands of the Eurasian boreal and temperate forest zones, from lowlands up to 2200 m, often foraging in nearby upland areas (Walkinshaw 1973, Johnsgard 1983, Prange 1989). Across this extensive breeding range, the species nests in a variety of shallow (20-40 cm) freshwater wetland types, including open marshes, forested swamps (especially birch and alder swamps), sedge meadows, lake edges, and bogs. In central Asia, drier habitats (even semidesert areas) may be used if water is available. Former breeding habitats in southern Europe were primarily permanent, densely vegetated marshes. Eurasian Cranes are omnivorous, probing and picking for a wide range of plant and animal foods both on dry land and in wetlands. Even during the chick-rearing period, however, they prefer to forage in upland areas (including agricultural fields) with short vegetation. During this period, animal foods—worms, snails, insects, arthropods, frogs, lizards, snakes, rodents—are very important (especially for the chicks) and tend to be more frequently consumed.

In most areas, Eurasian Cranes prefer large, isolated nesting territories with nesting sites that are well protected from disturbance. However, they have proven adaptable to even heavy human interference under some circumstances. Over the last three decades, breeding cranes in Scandinavia and central Europe have begun to use smaller and less wild wetlands within intensively cultivated landscapes. In northeast Germany they now breed in small (<1000 m2) wet depressions in the midst of agricultural fields (Mewes 1994, Prange 1995). These birds are more tolerant of the presence of humans than those that breed in larger, more natural forested swamps. Breeding cranes have also returned to artificial and restored wetlands in areas (especially in Germany) from which they had been extirpated.

Nests consist of mounds of wetland vegetation. Eggs are laid primarily in May, usually two per clutch. The incubation period is 28-31 days, and chicks fledge at around 65-70 days. After the chicks fledge, Eurasian Cranes gather in large flocks prior to migration. In some areas these flocks assemble in agricultural fields, where they can cause crop damage. Flocks increase in size as the cranes gather at traditional staging areas before and during migration. Along their migration routes, they often forage in agricultural fields and roost in shallow lakes, large riparian wetlands, wet meadows, and other wetlands.

On their wintering grounds, Eurasian Cranes roost in wetlands and other shallow waters and forage for waste and sown grain, acorns, insects, and other foods in agricultural fields, pastures, and other upland habitats. In general, plant items are much more important in the winter diet. Feeding and roosting habitats are highly varied throughout the species’ widely scattered wintering grounds: open holm oak woodlands (dehesas and montados), cereal fields, and shallow wetlands in the Iberian Peninsula; lakebeds, large river valleys, and upland grasslands in North and East Africa; shallow lakes, reservoir edges, and coastal marshes in the Middle East and North Africa; agricultural fields, grasslands, reservoir margins, and other shallow water bodies in India; and shallow lakes, agricultural fields, and deltaic wetlands in China (Alonso et al. 1987b, Alonso and Alonso 1990, Almeida and Pinto 1995, Sànchez Guzmán et al. 1993, el-Hili 1995, Farhadpour 1987, Newton in press a, Gole 1993, Wu and Wang 1986, Ji and Yu 1991, Xu X. et al. 1991).

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Principal Threats

JPG-Eurasian Crane in Kabul marketplace, Afghanistan

The leading threat to Eurasian Crane populations over the last several decades has been the loss and degradation of breeding habitat. Loss of wetlands and associated uplands to drainage, dams, agricultural expansion, urbanization, and other forms of development has been widespread throughout Europe, European Russia, and central Asia. For example, between 1958 and 1978 wetlands in the central portion of European Russia decreased by an estimated 37%, from 478,300 ha to 301,200 ha, and the crane population declined from about 3000 breeding pairs to 2500 pairs (Priklonski and Markin 1982). The same pattern has been observed in many other portions of the breeding range (e.g., Bulakhov et al. 1995, Kuchin 1995, Prokofiev 1995, Krivitski et al. 1995). Although destruction of wetlands has slowed in some areas in recent years, many additional breeding wetlands may be lost as political constraints on travel and development ease and economic growth intensifies.

Wetlands have also been lost or degraded along the species’ migration routes and on wintering grounds in China, India, the Middle East, northeastern Africa, and Europe (Harris 1992a, Farhadpour 1987, Newton in press a, Prange 1995). Many areas are subject to pressures related to increasing human population density. Human activities have a severe impact on wintering areas in China (many of which are shared with Siberian, White-naped, Hooded, Black-necked, and Red-crowned Cranes) (Harris 1992a). Destruction of wetlands in the Tigris-Euphrates basin along the Iran-Iraq border, and the continuing threat of warfare, constitute significant threats to the wintering population in this region. However, expansion of irrigated agriculture and associated artificial wetlands has created wintering habitat in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and several other arid countries (S. Newton pers. comm.).

Changes in land use, especially changes in agricultural production methods, are also of concern. This is of greatest consequence in Europe and India (Gole 1993, Prange 1995). The advent of mechanized farming in the present century has resulted in larger agricultural fields with reduced human activity on a day-to-day basis. This may actually have improved habitat conditions for cranes and allowed some populations to increase. Such adaptations, however, leave them vulnerable to further changes in cropping methods and land uses. In Germany, for example, reunification has resulted in dramatic changes in forestry and farming practices. These changes, in turn, have increased the pressure to drain wetlands used by breeding cranes, and have decreased food availability for migrating cranes in the Rügen-Bock region (von Treuenfels 1995).

At the same time, the West European population is increasingly concentrated in large flocks at feeding and roosting sites during migration due to the elimination of smaller traditional wetland roosting areas (Prange 1995). This population’s wintering grounds in southwestern Spain and Portugal are threatened by the conversion of the traditional agricultural land use system—the open holm oak pastoral woodlands and extensive cereal cropfields—to irrigation agriculture, and by afforestation with eucalyptus trees (Alonso et al. 1987b, Alonso and Alonso 1990, Sànchez Guzmán et al. 1993, Almeida 1995).

In areas where the population of Eurasian Cranes has stabilized, increased, or become more concentrated, farmers have reported incidents of crop damage, particularly at staging and stopover points along migration routes, and on wintering grounds in eastern France, northern Spain (Laguna de Gallocanto), and India. This is likely to continue as a source of concern, especially as crane populations recover in areas in which they have been depressed, but where suitable habitat has declined (Alonso et al. 1991, Sànchez Guzmán et al. 1993).

Historically, hunting probably contributed to the extirpation of breeding populations in England and southern Europe. Hunting continues to have a significant impact on the flocks that migrate through Afghanistan and Pakistan (see the Demoiselle Crane species account in this volume) (Roberts and Landfried 1987, Hamad and Shah 1991, Jan and Ahmad 1995, Landfried et al. 1995). Illegal shooting has been identified as a problem in other areas, including Portugal, southeast Europe, Egypt, and Sudan (Almeida 1995, Prange 1994, Newton in press a). Egg collecting is apparently a threat to the breeding population in Turkey (S. Newton pers. comm.). In other areas, such as the Rügen-Bock region of Germany, waterfowl hunting is a source of disturbance to cranes in nearby feeding areas (G. Nowald pers. comm.). Pesticides may be affecting cranes in some wintering areas, especially where they depend primarily on gleanings from agricultural fields (Newton in press a).

In heavily developed portions of the breeding range, nest disturbance by humans can reduce productivity indirectly by increasing the incidence of successful nest predation, primarily by crows, ravens, wild boars, and foxes. Predation may also be exacerbated during times of drought. Increased human disturbance is also a problem at many staging and winter roosting sites (Prange and Mewes 1991). Poisoning has been reported in several areas, normally along migration routes and in wintering areas (e.g., Zhmud 1988). Collisions with utility lines are frequent in highly developed areas of the breeding and winter ranges and along migration routes (e.g., Grinchenko 1988a). Collisions are probably the leading cause of adult mortality at wintering areas in Spain (Alonso et al. 1992, 1994a).

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Current Conservation Measures

JPG-Territorial dispute between Eurasian and Black-necked cranes

Conservation measures have been undertaken most extensively in the western portion of the Eurasian Crane’s range. Outside of Europe, however, the Eurasian Crane often benefits from conservation actions undertaken on behalf of sympatric crane species.

Legal and Cultural Protection

The Eurasian Crane is legally protected in most range countries, including all European countries, Russia, Ukraine, China, India, and Iran. In many countries, however, stronger enforcement is needed. Wetland protection laws and policies, including compensation and incentive policies for wetland restoration, have played an important role in the species’ recovery in parts of Europe. Although still hunted in Pakistan, legal restrictions on hunting were imposed beginning in 1984.

International Agreements and Cooperation

Because Eurasian Cranes are found in so many countries (more than any other crane species), international cooperation plays a key role in their conservation. The Ramsar Convention has drawn attention to important wetland habitats within signatory countries. In East Asia, the species has benefitted from international conferences, agreements, and conservation measures focused on the other, more endangered crane species of the region (see the White-naped, Siberian, Hooded, Red-crowned, Demoiselle, and Black-necked Crane accounts in this volume). In Europe, the European Crane Working Group (ECWG) has coordinated conservation activities—including research, monitoring, color banding, habitat protection, education, and recommended changes in agricultural policy—since the mid-1980s. This multilateral cooperation has been strengthened through meetings of the ECWG in Hungary (1985), Estonia (with members of the USSR Crane Working Group in 1989), Spain (1994), and Germany (1996). Although no range-wide conservation strategy for the species has been developed, scientists studying the species in Eastern and Western Europe, Russia, and North Africa have begun to work more closely together in recent years (see the papers in Crane Research and Protection In Europe (1995).

Protected Areas

Most of the Eurasian Crane’s breeding sites are remote and scattered, and are found outside of established protected areas. However, some breeding areas are within protected areas in China, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and several other countries (Ma and Li 1994, Harris 1992a, Patrekeev 1995, Estafyev 1995, Gromadzki 1995, Nowald in press). Staging areas are also generally unprotected. Of 166 major (>100 cranes) staging areas identified in Russia, only Taldom and the Oka Biosphere State Nature Reserve have been protected. More than 17 of these areas support over 1000 cranes (Y. Markin pers. comm.).

Full or partial protection is provided for migrating cranes at many key stopover sites, including the Xianghai, Keerqin, Momoge, Dalainor, and Dalinor Nature Reserves in China (Harris 1992a, Ma and Li 1994); two areas in Pakistan along the Kurrum, Gambeela, and Indus Rivers (UNEP/CMS 1995); Hornborga Lake in Sweden (Lundin 1995); Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft in northern German; two sites (Hortobagy National Park and Kardoskút) in Hungary (Bankovics 1995); the Plain of Woëve and Lac du Der-Chanteqoc in France (Salvi et al. 1995); and Laguna de Gallocanta National Wildlife Reserve in Spain (Alonso et al. 1987a, Alonso et al. 1990). Prange (1995) estimates that 70-75% of habitats used as resting places are legally protected in Germany, allowing about 90% of migrating cranes to rest under secure conditions. However, at some protected areas (such as Laguna de Gallocanta in Spain) cranes remain subject to disturbance and harassment from farmers concerned about possible crop damage (Alonso et al. 1991, J. A. Alonso pers. comm.).

Protected areas in the species’ winter range include Yancheng, Shengjin Lake, Poyang Lake, Dongting Lake, Cao Hai, and Luguhu Nature Reserves in China; Massa National Park in Morocco; and several partially protected areas in southern France (Harris 1992a, Salvi et al. 1995). In the Spanish region of Extremadura, twelve reserves have been established through purchase or agreement with landowners (ADENEX 1995). The total area of these reserves, however, is small, and cannot ensure the long-term viability of these areas as wintering sites (J. A. Alonso and J. C. Alonso pers comm.).

Habitat Protection and Management

Protection and management measures have been undertaken primarily in habitats outside the breeding range. In China, habitat management takes place mainly within reserves, and in connection with the needs of other crane species. The Center for Independent Ecological Programs of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union has recently initiated a program, “To Save the Key Migrating Habitats of Common Cranes and Geese in Northwest Russia.” The program focuses on the Kargopol District in Arkhangelsk Region, where Russia’s largest known concentration of Eurasian Crane occurs (J. Almeida and N. Anzigitova pers. comm.).

The most intensive habitat management efforts have taken place in western Europe. These measures include: creation and restoration of wetlands; agreements with private land owners to protect key resting and wintering habitats2; clearing of dense vegetation from roosting areas; development of habitat management plans for protected areas; burial or relocation of utility lines; programs to encourage planting of lure crops and use of waste grain for diversionary feeding; and compensation programs for farmers suffering crop damage (Malik and Prange 1995, Swanberg 1987, Nowald 1994, Lundin 1995, Prange 1995, Salvi et al. 1995). Breeding pairs resettled former breeding habitats in the former West Germany after many of these measures were implemented (J. van der Ven pers. comm.).


Eurasian Cranes are often counted in the course of surveys of other cranes and waterfowl species. Breeding populations have been most closely monitored in Scandinavia, the Baltic nations, Poland, and Germany (Mewes 1989, 1994; Prange 1995). In recent years, surveys have been conducted regularly at key staging and wintering areas in Russia, Europe (Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, Hungary, Sweden, Estonia) and North Africa (Morocco and Tunisia) (Muñoz-Pulido et al. 1988, Alonso and Alonso 1990, Almeida 1992, Sànchez Guzmán et al. 1993, Lundin 1995, Prange 1995, Fintha 1995, Muñoz-Pulido 1995, Newton in press a, Y. Markin pers. comm.). Since 1990, winter counts have been conducted in Asia and Africa under the auspices of the IWRB and AWB (Taylor and Rose 1994, Davies in press).


Over the last two decades, research on the distribution, biology, ecology, and conservation status of the species has expanded significantly throughout the species’ range. These include studies in China (e.g., Fan et al. 1994, Ji and Yu 1991, Liu et al. 1987b, Ma et al. 1993, Sai et al. 1991, Wang Q. 1991, Wu and Wang 1986); Russia (e.g., Ellis et al. 1992; Priklonski and Markin 1982, Markin and Sotnikova 1995); India and central Asia (e.g., Higuchi et al. 1994a; Khachar et al. 1991); Pakistan (Ahmad and Shah 1991, Landfried et al. 1995); and Israel (Levy and Yom-Tov 1991). Many of these studies have been published or summarized in the proceedings of the several international crane workshops, and in publications of the former USSR Crane Working Group (Litvinenko and Neufeldt 1982, 1988; Neufeldt 1982, 1989; Neufeldt and Kespaik 1987, 1989; Prange 1995).

Research on the Eurasian Crane has been most intensive in Europe. Field studies have focused on many aspects of the species’ demographics, life history, feeding and wintering behavior, and habitat and conservation needs (e.g., Almeida 1995; Almeida and Pinto 1995; Alonso and Alonso 1992, 1993; Alonso et al. 1984, 1987a, 1987b, 1994b; Mewes 1989; Neumann 1987, 1991; Nowald 1994; Prange 1995). The results of many of these studies are reported in the proceedings of the meetings of the European Crane Working Group (Bankovics 1987, Prange 1995). The ECWG has studied the migration routes of the European populations since the mid-1980s through direct visual observation, color banding programs, and radio tracking, and has applied these research findings in new conservation measures (see papers in Prange 1995).

Non-Governmental Organizations

Several non-governmental organization have played an important role in the protection of the Eurasian Crane and its habitats. These include:

Education and Training

Because Eurasian Cranes are the most easily observed crane species (and usually the largest bird species) in many portions of their range, they play a valuable role in education about cranes, wetlands, agriculture, and conservation. Public education is an important component of conservation programs at many of the key sites in Europe (e.g., Lake Hornborga in Sweden, Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft in Germany, Lac du Der-Chantecoq in France, and the wintering sites in Spain). Crane Protection Germany is constructing an international crane information center on the coast of the Baltic Sea near Stralsund (von Treuenfels 1995). Landfried et al. (1995) provides a comprehensive review of education programs in Pakistan, where hunter education, professional training sessions, slide shows, and other activities have been undertaken to protect the three crane species that use this critical migration corridor into India. Further hunter education projects in this region are now underway (C. Mirande pers. comm.). Many education projects have also been developed in China, especially in the various nature reserves used by the Eurasian and other crane species. Formal training involving the species has been offered through the various working groups, through the 1993 African Crane and Wetlands Training Workshop in Botswana, and through ICF and other non-governmental organizations.

Captive Propagation and Reintroduction

The GCAR for cranes estimated that 279 Eurasian Cranes were being maintained in captivity as of 1993 (Mirande et al. in press a). The species is relatively easy to maintain and breed in captivity. The GCAR does not recommend establishing a captive program and assigns it C priority. The GCAR does note that there is interest in maintaining captive representatives of the species in China and in Europe for educational purposes. The species has also been used in captive propagation programs as a “foster parent” for other more endangered crane species. In Pakistan, captured cranes are often kept as pets.

It has been proposed that the species be reintroduced in parts of its range from which it has been extirpated as a breeding species (primarily southern Europe). However, Eurasian cranes have returned to former breeding areas on their own, and this process may be expected to continue as long as suitable wetland habitats are protected and/or restored. In these areas, the potential for reintroduction or natural recovery of the species should first be evaluated through (1) compilation and analysis of historical information on the occurrence of the species; (2) inventories of suitable wetland habitats; and (3) assessment of the opportunities for (and constraints on) restoration of the species and their habitats.

2These include management agreements prepared under EU Agri-environment Regulation EC Reg. 2078/92 to support extensive farming practices (J. Almeida pers. comm.)

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Priority Conservation Measures

Priority conservation measures for the Eurasian Crane (more so than those recommended for other crane species) reflect the widely varied ecological conditions, conservation status, and amount of available information across the species range. The measures recommended here need to be coordinated across the range, but are required to varying degrees within the different regions. The advanced work on the species in Europe provides an important foundation for work on the species throughout its range.

There are many opportunities to coordinate conservation actions for the Eurasian Crane and other crane species. The European Russian population of Eurasian Cranes shares priorities with the Black Sea and Kalmykia populations of Demoiselle Cranes. The Turkey populations of both the Eurasian and Demoiselle Crane require basic surveys and field studies. The Western Siberian population of the Eurasian Crane, the Kazakhstan/Central Asia and Eastern populations of the Demoiselle Crane, and the Western and Central populations of the Siberian Crane require many of the same actions along their migration routes and in their wintering grounds. In the east, the Central Siberia/Northern China and Tibetan populations of the Eurasian Crane share many of the priorities for the Siberian, White-naped, Hooded, Black-necked, and Red-crowned Cranes. See the accounts for these species in this volume.

Legal and Cultural Protection

  1. Strengthen the legal foundation for protection of wetlands and other habitats in the Eurasian Crane’s breeding grounds, along its migratory routes, and in its wintering grounds. Countries where this is a critical need include Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tunisia, and Turkey.

  2. Strengthen hunting regulations where greater protection is needed for Eurasian Cranes. Countries where this is a critical need include Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Romania, Tunisia, and the Balkan states.

  3. Strengthen requirements for environmental impact assessments in the planning of development projects (dams and reservoirs, utility lines, roads, railways, etc.) affecting Eurasian Crane habitat. In general this is most important for migration stopover areas and in the species’ wintering grounds.
International Agreements and Cooperation

The Eurasian Crane’s extensive range and migration routes offer many opportunities for multinational conservation projects. High priority should be given to the following measures:

  1. Support the signing and ratification of the Ramsar Convention in range countries where this has not yet occurred, and implementation of its provisions in signatory countries. In particular, the identification and protection of Wetlands of International Importance should proceed as quickly as possible.

  2. Establish cooperative international conservation programs involving the countries along the migratory routes of all the main populations.

  3. Expand international cooperation on research (especially monitoring and migration studies) and management strategies across the entire species’ range.

  4. Convene an international meeting, involving countries from throughout the species’ range, to evaluate the status and conservation needs of the species as a whole.

  5. Develop conservation incentives for the Western and Eastern Europe population under the European Common Agricultural Policy.

  6. Develop a central database for information on all banded and observed cranes in Europe.
Protected Areas
  1. Establish (or expand) protected areas at important breeding, staging, resting, and wintering areas.

  2. Strengthen enforcement and management of existing protected areas. Priority areas are: Zhalong and Cao Hai Nature Reserves (China); Kurgaldzhinski and Naurzumski Nature Reserves (Kazakhstan); Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft (Germany); Hortobagy National Park (Hungary); and Laguna de Gallocanta National Wildlife Reserve (Spain).

  3. Develop a long-term international strategy to protect additional key Eurasian Crane habitats. This effort:
Habitat Protection and Management

In general, habitat protection and management needs outside of Europe are outlined in other species accounts. The following measures are needed most urgently in breeding grounds in northern Europe; at important migration stopovers and resting areas throughout Europe; and at wintering grounds across the species range.

  1. Provide alternative resting areas along the principal migration routes, especially by protecting and restoring smaller wetlands. (This pertains primarily to Europe, where such alternative areas are needed to prevent further concentration of migrating flocks).

  2. Protect and manage existing wetlands, and restore degraded wetlands, that have the potential to provide nesting/roosting habitat. (This is most urgently needed within intensively cultivated or otherwise altered landscapes throughout Europe).

  3. Protect wetlands, riparian forests, and floodplains in Central and Eastern Europe from further modification (i.e., dams, drainage, water diversions). (This pertains not only to major river systems such as the Oder, Elbe, Dnieper, and Danube, but also smaller streams and wetlands).

  4. Protect and restore crane habitats on lands in Central and Eastern Europe now being returned to private individuals or local communities.

  5. Provide incentives for farmers and other landowners whose land management practices benefit cranes. In particular, agricultural programs and policies should be modified to encourage the planting of crops used by cranes and to support traditional agricultural systems and practices (e.g., delayed fall plowing of stubble fields) in wintering areas. (This pertains primarily to western Europe).

  6. Modify (through burial or marking) utility lines to reduce the incidence of collision. This is especially important in France, Spain, and portions of India and China.

  7. Avoid inappropriate development of wind power facilities along flyways near the larger stopover points (as in the Rügen-Bock region).
  1. Organize coordinated, simultaneous surveys and censuses in portions of the species’ range where they are currently lacking. This is accomplished most easily through simultaneous surveys in wintering areas.

  2. Continue and expand existing population and annual recruitment surveys, migration counts, and monitoring programs in Europe to gauge long-term trends in populations and habitats.
  1. Define and/or clarify the migration routes of the various populations.

  2. Expand research on the number, status, distribution, and breeding and wintering areas of the various populations. This information should be used to produce a more accurate range map for the species.

  3. Initiate field investigations of the size, status, habitats, and movements of the isolated populations in the Tibetan Plateau and Turkey.

  4. Develop a coordinated, large-scale color banding and radio tracking project for the Eurasian Crane in Europe. This project would build upon the substantial amount of research that European scientists have undertaken in recent years, and would offer important benefits to researchers in other parts of the species’ range.

  5. Develop more systematic methods of assembling population and habitat-related data in order to evaluate realistically the status of the species. As part of this effort, improved methods of gathering, communicating, and coordinating scientific information across the entire range of the species will need to be developed. A central database should be established to maintain information on the species and its habitat.

  6. Continue behavioral and demographic studies of the European populations (including investigations of age of pairing, degree of monogamy, dispersal rates, mortality, pair formation, breeding success, and tolerance of disturbance). These studies provide fundamental information of use in comparative studies of the species in other portions of its range, and in studies of more endangered crane species.

  7. Clarify the intraspecific genetic structure and relationships among the populations.
Addressing Crop Depredation Problems

At present, the following actions are most critical in Sweden, Germany, France, and Spain, but are also relevant in Eastern Europe, Russia, India, and elsewhere.

  1. Conduct additional research to evaluate accurately the level of crop damage, to distinguish between damage caused by cranes and that caused by geese, and to calculate fair levels of compensation.

  2. Conduct research on crane feeding behavior and the effectiveness of diversionary feeding, lure crops, use of fallow lands, scare techniques, and other means of reducing the incidence of damage.

  3. Improve farmer incentive and compensation programs involving cranes through adjustments in national and international agricultural policies.
Education and Training
  1. Expand hunter education programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan (see the Demoiselle Crane species account in this volume).

  2. Provide training programs for volunteers working in important wetland areas and in protected areas established for cranes.

  3. Develop public education programs along the species’ migration routes, with special emphasis on crane counts and the biology of migration. (In many areas, this can be undertaken in conjunction with similar efforts for the Demoiselle Crane).

  4. Initiate public education programs in northern and eastern Africa.

  5. Develop exchange programs involving students from the breeding and wintering areas of the various populations.

  6. Develop collaborative public awareness projects involving government agencies and elected officials, conservation organizations and local volunteer groups, landowners, hunters and fishers, the media, and other organizations and individuals.

  7. Develop programs directed specifically towards ecotourists, emphasizing the value of cranes but also serving to prevent the level of human disturbance from increasing.

  8. Support exchange programs and collaborative training opportunities for researchers from various parts of the species’ range.
Captive Propagation and Reintroduction
  1. Implement the following recommendations of the crane GCAR and CAMP (Mirande et al. in press a):

  2. Monitor natural recovery in areas where the species has been extirpated (primarily western and southern Europe), assess the likelihood of further natural recovery, and determine the location and quality of potential recolonization and reintroduction sites.

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