Skip to Main Content

Catching Cranes in Germany

  A radio tagged and ringed crane at the moment of release!

Just got back, exhausted, from a fantastic and exciting few days assisting with the ‘crane catching season’ in Mecklenburg, Germany.  Kranichschutz Deutschland (Crane Conservation Germany) carry out an annual catching of juvenile cranes for ringing and fitting of radio transmitters as part of an ongoing monitoring of the migration routes and habits of the cranes. Kranichschutz Deutschland is a working group of NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Germany who are supported by Lufthansa’s environmental sponsoring program.  
I travelled out at the end of last week along with Larry Griffin from WWT to join the team which is headed up by Gϋnter Nowald – a guru in the world of cranes.

 crane weighing Gϋnter weighing a young crane (tags are fitted only if the birds are over 3kg.)

The aim of our trip was not only to find out more about cranes’ habits, habitats and movements, but specifically to learn about the technique that Kranichschutz Deutschland  use to fit back-pack mounted radio transmitters to the cranes.  This is something that we will be doing with the release birds in Somerset and we wanted to ensure that we use the very best methods available.  Gϋnter and the international team, this year from France, Russia and Germany,  have been fitting back pack harnesses (just like a small rucksack) to young cranes for a good number of years with much success.

ringed and radio tagged crane   A ringed and radio tagged crane

We will adapt the German technique to fit state of the art GPS data loggers to the backs of five of the release cranes at the end of July.   These are downloadable remotely, but we will need to get within 300 metres of the birds to extract the information, which will give vital information on feeding and roosting locations and enable us to adapt our management accordingly.

The young cranes are caught by hand before they can fly – but they can certainly run and are extremely wary. Kranichschutz Deutschland’s method is to start very early in the morning (the best time for cranes) and to set off on the maze of small roads and back roads that criss- cross the landscape on the hunt for families of cranes, feeding in the meadows and fields.  Once the cranes are spotted, two things are essential – surprise and speed. The team achieve this by driving their van flat-out across the meadows to get close to the cranes before they realise what is happening. As soon as the van is close enough two members of the team leap from the van and run at full speed towards the young cranes. 

The cranes then either run for the cover of the woods or the wetlands (in which case it is a simple matter of who is quicker – crane or human)  or the parents give specific call and the young lie down and hide in the long vegetation.    

Once caught or found, the cranes are generally pretty passive and let the team get on with the ringing, measuring, weighing and transmitter fitting work which takes around 10 minutes

. Ringing (banding) the crane

crane Measuring the leg length

The birds are then released – a relief for all – and the team leave the area as quickly as they entered to allow the parents and young to be reunited in peace.

A team of local crane enthusiasts then monitor the chicks from a distance over the coming weeks before they start on their autumn migration.  Their transmitter’s signal is then searched for by other volunteers stationed at stop over points along the long migration route and all data fed back to the Kranichschutz Deutschland team.  You can find out more about the work of Kranichschutz Deutschland at

 The team at work and the Kranichschutz Deutschland vehicle.

This region of Germany is situated to the north and west of the crane project’s source population of crane eggs, in Brandenburg, but many of the habitats are similar.  It is a post glacial landscape of feld-sols and swamps, species rich meadows, forests, intensive arable land and extensive pasture.  The cranes nest in the wet bits and feed in the meadows before moving onto arable stubbles at harvest time prior to migration.  It is a great part of the world and other wildlife included breeding fieldfares, thrush nightingales, icterine warblers and black redstarts around the camping place;  black and red kites, white tailed eagles and marsh harriers cruising all over the place, and lots of tree sparrows! 


%s1 / %s2
About the author
User picture

Damon’s role is to act as the hub of the project - making sure everyone involved knows what is going on and that it is all running smoothly. He is also responsible for project community awareness work in Somerset, construction of the release enclosure, and running the post release monitoring work in Somerset.  Damon works alongside the RSPB reserve teams in Somerset.