Common Cranes Return to Ireland After 300 Years

The common crane was typically found in Ireland, however they have been absent from the island for more than 300 years. Though the birds still visit during the winter, the cranes have not returned during breeding season, nor have they nested or settled in Ireland for centuries. That is, until this year.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Piotr Krzeslak

Cranes can grow up to 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of over 7 feet. This unique bird is close to Irish history and culture, as it was often featured in folklore and was believed to be a common pet in the medieval era. However, due to human expansion and development, being hunted for meat, and an increase of predators such as foxes, the cranes were eradicated from Ireland at some point between 1600 and 1700.

Niall Hatch from Birdwatch Ireland, the largest independent conservation organization in Ireland, explained, “It’s the largest bird that most people would ever see in Ireland, it’s enormous and it’s a real part of our heritage. So it would be lovely to have it back.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/kojihirano

In early May of 2021, for the first time in over 300 years, a pair of cranes was spotted during breeding season in Ireland, on land owned by former peat producer Bord na Móna. Peat is an organic material used for fuel, created by materials gathered in the wetlands. Since peat production was proving harmful for the environment as it destroyed natural habitats and was displacing wildlife, Bord na Móna committed to halt their peat production. “We’re hoping that as conditions improve in Ireland perhaps we’ll see more of [the cranes] come back, especially if they do breed and rear chicks,” Hatch continued, highlighting that Bord na Móna’s drainage of the boglands has caused the most significant damage to the crane population.

Since Bord na Móna announced they would be halting peat harvesting in January of 2021, they began rehabilitating thousands of hectares of boglands and wetlands. Their lead ecologist, Mark McCorry, remarked, “While we have these birds coming to Ireland during the winter, we generally haven’t seen them in the breeding season… So it’s really a great indication that they look like they’re ready to re-colonise Ireland again.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/Jason Hahn

McCorry emphasized that he his optimistic that the cranes will breed this year, however it is not uncommon for young cranes to have a few unsuccessful attempts first. “Generally these birds, when they pair up and they’re young, it takes them a few years, or a few goes, before they become successful breeders,” he added. McCorry also mentions the possibility that the cranes had already started re-establishing their species, “It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that this pair of cranes are not the only pair now in Ireland.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/Hypnotik Photography

The crane was absent during breeding season in Britain for about 400 years, but now there are an estimated 200 cranes throughout Wales, Scotland,the English Fens, Suffolk, and Gloucestershire. There have also been occasional sightings in Northern Ireland, with the most recent report coming in from 2016. Matthew Tickner, RSPB Northern Ireland ecologist, mentioned that cranes require privacy and cannot be disturbed when breeding, and will flock to lowland bogs and wetlands to do so. “We have some of this habitat in Northern Ireland, but not on the same scale as in the Republic. So freedom from disturbance might be a constraint if cranes started to appear further north.”

Although Bord na Móna has updated followers on the cranes through Twitter, they are maintaining anonymity over the exact location of the cranes’ nest so as to protect the birds. To help other birds in peril like the common cranes, consider this gift that gives more.

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