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Two rarest Red-crowned cranes were released into the wild in Primorye

29 march 2021
On March 29, two Red-crowned cranes, rarest bird species in the Amur River basin, were released into the wild in the buffer zone of the Khanka Lake Nature Reserve in Russia. These birds were rescued from death with the support of WWF and were kept at the Rehabilitation Center TIGR in the village of Alekseevka in order to be prepared for independent life in the wild.

This is the first case of rehabilitation and wintering of Red-crowned cranes at the Rehab Center in Primorye. Two birds of different age, one and two years old, have been prepared for the release into the wild.

Red-crowned cranes named Quater and Zhura at the Rehab Center "TIGR"
Anna Serdyuk / WWF Russia
One of the Red List birds, a 1.5-month-old chick, was rescued in summer 2020 by residents in Evreiskaya province and timely delivered to the Rehab Center in Primorye. Here, the crane changed its plumage from juvenile to an adult bird, overwintered and went through a course of preparation for life in the wild. On March 25, on the eve of the release, specialists of WWF-Russia and Center TIGR put a ring and a GPS transmitter on the bird.
Anna Serdyuk, WWF Russia, puts a ring and transmitter on the crane
Elena Starostina / WWF Russia
Its neighbor by the enclosure, who was brought to the Rehab Center in February 2021, already had such tags. A two-year-old Red-crowned crane named Quater was born in the Muravyevsky Nature Park of Amurskaya province, from where it was released into the wild in May 2020. For unknown reasons, the crane lost its way, did not fly to the south of China or the Korean Peninsula for wintering, but stayed in the north of Primorye, far from migration routes. The signal from the transmitter helped to locate the bird and rescue it. For more than two months, ornithologists from the Amur-Ussuriysk Center for the Study of Bird Biodiversity and the Federal Research Center of Biodiversity of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with the support of WWF Russia, local residents and the Wildlife Management Department ensured the life and safety of the crane in the snowy and frosty Primorye. It was finally caught and taken to the Rehab Center only in early February.
Anna Serdyuk, WWF Russia, demonstrates the ring and the transmitter for the crane
Elena Starostina / WWF Russia
“The chicks of cranes are raised by parents who teach them to develop the correct behavior in search for food, reaction to danger, choosing a place to rest, reaction to the contact with wild cranes. The crane Quater was raised by pair of cranes in Muravyevsky Nature Park in a spacious enclosure as close as possible to natural conditions. The acquired skills allowed the bird to adapt to life in freedom and survive in the extremely harsh winter conditions in Primorye. Another crane, which is now about a year old, got to people at a young age, it was raised in an open enclosure, hadn’t socialized with other cranes and for this reason it was less prepared for an independent life in the wild. It is very good that now these birds have a contact with each other, communicate with the help of sounds. And of course, their joint release into the wild is very important. They are both immature and will stick to each other, which will help them to adapt and survive,” comments Anna Serdyuk, Ph.D., senior coordinator on protected areas at WWF Russia Amur branch.

Released into the wild

Both birds spent winter in a warm house, which was specially purchased for the Rehabilitation Center with the help of WWF-Russia supporters to keep heat-loving rare birds, and before the release they were kept in one enclosure.

Transporting cage delivered to the release site in the Khanka Lake Nature Reserve
Elena Starostina / WWF Russia
“The Rehabilitation Center has provided optimal conditions for nursing and keeping rare birds. Thanks to WWF, we have such infrastructure as a warm house, 4 separate enclosures and a large flying enclosure where birds can practice their flying skills, as well as a feeding system and veterinary support, - says Viktor Kuzmenko, the head of the Center TIGR. This is the first time when Red-crowned cranes were placed here for rehabilitation. For the chick we brought from Evreiskaya province, the main task was to prepare it for an independent life, so that the bird would get stronger, learn to fly and ready to survive after the release. As for the crane named Quater, it had to be fed and kept until spring in order to be released in those habitats where its siblings had already arrived and where it could find a mate. In the first week, the cranes were kept in a warm house separately, through a dividing wall, but showed interest in each other. After it got warmer, we placed them in one enclosure, this happened without any conflict and the birds have been together for more than a month. We hope that Quater, being more experienced and older in age, will help the younger bird named Zhura and, even if their paths fly apart, they will survive in the wild."

 According to expert recommendations, the release of cranes into the wild took place in Primorye in the buffer zone of the Khanka Lake Nature Reserve, in the period that experts consider the most suitable for this bird species.

“It’s a good time for the release due to weather conditions, not lower than -10 C at night and above 0 С daytime temperatures. The snow melts at this time, thaw holes appear on the water reservoirs. This will allow them to find food. Moreover, wild cranes have already arrived in the places of stop overs returning from wintering sites. During the flight, young cranes unite with each other, form small groups, and it will be easier for the released cranes to find contact with such birds,” explains Peter Osipov, Ph.D, director of WWF Russia Amur branch.

The first 3-4 days after the release, it will be clear from the cranes behavior how well they adapt to life in the wild. The most important sign of a successful release is active feeding. The released cranes will be monitored for at least the first week.

The Red-crowned crane is a very rare bird, the breeding process goes very slowly, usually only one chick survives even if two eggs are laid in the nest, so each individual counts. Saving such birds from death, rehabilitation and returning back to the wild is one of the best gifts for the planet.

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