The Common Crane (Grus grus) is a statuesque bird standing about four feet tall (the males being bigger than the females) and can live for up to 40 years. It has a very strong flight (on up to a 7 foot wingspan), is capable of soaring for long periods, and often forms large V formations or diagonal lines when migrating: The Crane has the second highest flight altitude of all birds, at 33,000 feet (the same altitude as a commercial jet!)
- Breeds in north eastern Europe and most travel to southern Spain and North Africa each winter.
- Has several favourite stop-off points on its migration route, many of which see the local people put food, mostly grain, out for them to help them on their long journey.
- Breeds mainly in May, in marshy areas, on a hump on the ground made of grass and other vegetation.
- Lays 2 eggs, which are pale grey to reddish brown with dark markings and are incubated by both male and female for about 4 weeks.
- Feeds on plant material, grain, insects and old potatoes! It also takes small animals and young birds.
- In spring, the pair, which usually mate for life, perform an elaborate display ‘dance’ at the breeding site. The couple have a very similar plumage.
The Common Crane did have a population in Britain about 400 years ago but became extinct because of hunting and loss of its favourite habitat. A small population established itself in Norfolk in 1978 and has gradually increased in number – they have since spread further than Norfolk resulting in 48 breeding pairs being established, with a total population of approximately 160 birds. Between 2010 and 2014 there was a re-introduction programme into the Somerset Levels and Moors; The Great Crane Project, which is a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and is funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company, has now released 93 birds in South West England, extending beyond Somerset into Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and South Wales.