Breeding Cranes

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Breeding Cranes

A West Sedgemoor Wonder
This year, for the first time for in four centuries a very special event took place on the West Sedgemoor reserve- five golden, fluffy chicks were hatched.

Three pairs of Eurasian (or Common) Cranes successfully reared four chicks to the point of fledging. They, with their parents, are now with the general flock and can be seen at times within the bounds of Curry Rivel village. The juvenile birds are almost as big as their parents now but they don't quite look like them yet. They have rusty coloured heads and necks unlike the adults who have black and white heads and necks with a bright red top to their heads. The young stay with their parents for around a year until the breeding season starts and then they are chased away so that the adults can get on with their important breeding work. Local schools and businesses were encouraged to champion the released birds so they all have pet names though they are properly identified by their leg rings.

The best place to observe a flock is from the Parrett Way between Oath and Stathe but they do move around quite a lot. They can be seen in the air in their V shaped pattern and can be heard 'bugling' (a bit like yodelling). The released birds still wear their coloured identity rings which are on their legs and this helps to record their progress. Out on the Levels they are remarkably difficult to see considering they are now one of the largest wild birds in Britain. Nature has ensured that they melt into the background whatever it is. Also they love feeding in ditches and where the vegetation is tall. However patience is rewarded by the sight of them peacefully feeding or preening. It will be some years before the project is considered a success because Cranes are quite long lived (around 20 years) and take time to establish a sustainable flock.

The project to re-introduce cranes to the Somerset Levels, where they used to be very common until hunted out of existence, started in 2010. After 5 years around 100 birds had been released after eggs from Germany were hatched at WWT Slimbridge. 93 birds have survived and all are capable of breeding now. So far these beautiful birds have produced 11 young in locations as far away as Wiltshire and South Wales but this year the successful rearing took place on West Sedgemoor — the event we were all waiting for! This has confirmed the wisdom of releasing them on the Levels where hopefully they will stay for a long time to come.

If you would like further information you can visit the Crane website: www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk

Liz Antliff-Clark — RSPB Volunteer
Photo courtesy of John Crispin