Common crane Grus grus
The common crane is one of Europe’s largest birds with a wingspan of between 1.8 to 2.2 metres. Once common across East Anglia, a small breeding population established itself in the Norfolk Broads in the late 1970s.
Conservation status in Norfolk
The crane is on the UK Amber conservation list for birds, as it has such a small breeding population. The Great Crane Project championed by the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust in partnership with the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has an objective of reintroducing a viable breeding population at suitable sites within the UK, securing its future as a British breeding bird.
How to help
Coastal reedbeds in the Broads, which form an important habitat for common cranes, are increasingly threatened by rising sea-levels, with periodic inundation by saltwater. Protecting and improving existing reedbeds in Norfolk to make them suitable for cranes is extremely important. You can help with this by joining the Norfolk Wildlife Trust both as a member and as a volunteer helping with reedbed management.
Julian Thomas Horsey Nov 2009
Information on the Common crane
How to recognise
The common crane is one of Europe’s largest birds. It has a mostly grey body and black wing plumes which give the impression of a big ‘bushy’ tail when the bird is standing. It has a black head with a distinctive white facial streak, and a red crown patch in the adult. Its wingspan can reach 240 cm, and it can weigh up to 6 kg.
Where to see
The crane was once quite common in wetlands across East Anglia, but they died out during the 17th century as a result of draining of the wetland habitat and excessive hunting. Since 1979 a small breeding population has been established in the Norfolk Broads. These birds are slowly increasing in number and particularly during spring wander further afield into adjacent counties. A pair has recently bred at the newly established RSPB Lakenheath Fen nature reserve just across the border into Suffolk.
Possibly the best place in Britain to view wild common cranes in winter is NWT Hickling Broad. Between November and February from the Stubb Mill raptor roost viewpoint, common cranes can be seen coming in to roost at sunset. (As well as the cranes, large numbers of marsh harriers are almost guaranteed in the roost, with occasional sightings of hen harrier, merlin and barn owl.)
In spring and summer, cranes are very vulnerable to disturbance at breeding sites but sightings of flying and feeding birds are regularly seen in the Hickling, Horsey, Winterton area of the Norfolk Broads.
Visitors to NWT Hickling Broad, during visitor centre opening periods, can obtain further information on opportunities to view cranes from the centre staff.
Parking is not available at Stubb Mill raptor viewpoint, therefore please park at NWT Hickling Broad car park – walking directions can be found on the orientation station located near the visitor centre (it's roughly a fifteen minute walk along an often-muddy track, so wellington boots are recommended).
When to see
The crane is normally migratory in Europe, and small numbers pass through Britain in spring and autumn. However, in Norfolk they are present all year round. Records of birds moving along the north Norfolk coast and elsewhere are frequent in spring and probably relate to the wandering Broadland population.
Did you know?
The crane has a deep sonorous call that can be heard at a distance of over three miles. In Homer's Iliad the sound of migrating flocks was likened to the sound of armies approaching in battle
More English place names are named after the common crane than are named after any other animal (Cranbrook, Cranfield and Cranleigh, for example)
When and where can I see common cranes in Norfolk?