Saturday 3 February 2024

Record number of breeding Eurasian Cranes in the UK in 2023.

In 2023 a record number of Eurasian Cranes, Grus grus, were observed breeding in the UK, with eighty observed pairs, the highest number seen since the species was re-introduced in the 1970s. Eurasian Cranes were once abundant in the UK, but a combination of heavy hunting and the drainage of wetlands to create new agricultural land led to the species becoming locally extinct in the sixteenth century.

A pair of Eurasian Crans, Grus grus, during a courtship dance. RSPB.

While Cranes dissapeared as a resident species, occasional individuals were observed in the East of England in spring and autumn, during their annual migration between their summer breeding grounds in Europe (almost certainly Scandinavia for these Birds) and their wintering grounds in Africa. Then, in 1979, a single pair was observed to remain in the UK, breeding on Hickling Broad in Norfolk. From this point on a growing number of breeding pairs of Cranes were observed on the Norfolk Broads, with the Birds slowly expanding their range to reach Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and South Yorkshire in England, as well as parts of Aberdeenshire in Scotland.

In addition to this, a reintroduction program was set up on the Somerset Levels in the West of England in the 2010s, with eggs collected from Brandenberg in Austria being incubated and  raised in captivity between 2010 and 2014, before being released onto the Levels. Cranes were first observed breeding in Somerset in 2015, although breeding remained slow their for some years, possibly because the Birds were hand-reared, which can hamper the ability of Birds to acquire courting and chick-rearing skills, but from 2021 onwards the Somerset population began to breed at similar rates to Cranes elsewhere in the UK. In 2022, twenty six pairs of cranes were observed breeding on the Somerset levels, out of a total UK population of 69 breeding pairs of the Birds.

A young Eurasian Crane, Grus grus, in flight on Sutton Fen in Somerset, England. RSPB.

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