This resource is based on the following source:
Meine, Curt D. and George W. Archibald (Eds).  1996.  The cranes: - Status
     survey and conservation action plan.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and
     Cambridge, U.K. 294pp.
This resource should be cited as:
Meine, Curt D. and George W. Archibald (Eds).  1996.  The cranes: - Status
     survey and conservation action plan.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and
     Cambridge, U.K. 294pp.  Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page.
     (Version 02MAR98).


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 speciesí 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 speciesí 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 Eurasiaís 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 speciesí 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 speciesí 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 Europe60-70,000Stable to increasingMuñoz-Pulido 1995,
Alonso et al. 1995,
Prange 1995
Eastern Europe>60,000Stable to increasingPrange 1994, 1995
H. Prange pers. comm.
European Russia    approx. 35,000    DecliningMarkin and Sotnikova 1995,
Y. Markin pers. comm.
Turkey200-500Decliningvan der Ven 1981,
J. van der Ven pers. comm.
Western Siberiaapprox. 55,000DecliningMarkin and Sotnikova 1995,
Y. Markin pers. comm.,
J. van der Ven pers. comm.
C Siberia/N China    5,000DecliningWang F. 1991,
Ma 1995,
Degtyaryev and Labutin 1995
Tibetan Plateau1000?Probably stableJ. Harris pers. comm.
Total220-250,000Increasing 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)
CITESAppendix 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 EuropeLower Risk (Least Concern)
Eastern EuropeLower Risk (Least Concern)
European RussiaVulnerable, under criteria
TurkeyData Deficient
Western SiberiaLower Risk (Near Threatened)
C Siberia/N China    Vulnerable, under criteria
A1   C1
Tibetan PlateauData Deficient

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Historic and Present Distribution

Distribution of the Common / Eurasian Crane

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 speciesí 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 populationís 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 populationís 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; MuŮoz-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. Hungaryís 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.

Distribution by Country

Afghanistan*M, W
AustriaM, X(b)
BhutanM(?), W (occasional)
Bosnia-Herzegovina    M
BulgariaM, X(b)
BelarusB, M
China*B, W
Czech RepublicB (occasional), M
DenmarkB (rare), M
Egypt*M, X(w?)
Estonia*B, M
France*B (rare), M, W
GeorgiaB (rare), M
Germany*B, M, W (rare)
GreeceM, X(b)
Hungary*M, X(b)
Israel*M, W
ItalyM, W (occasional), X(b)
JordanM, W
Kazakhstan*B, M
Korea, NorthV
Korea, SouthV
Latvia*B, M
Lithuania*B, M
MoldovaB(?), M
Mongolia*B, M
Pakistan*M, W
Poland*B, M
RomaniaB (rare), M
Russia*B, M
Saudi ArabiaW
SlovakiaM, X(b)
Spain*M, W, X(r)
SwitzerlandM (occasional)
SyriaM, W
Turkey*B, M, W
Ukraine*B, M
United Arab Emirates    V
United KingdomB (rare)
United StatesV
Western SaharaV
* = 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