It may not be the Danish national bird, but in Thy, it is the national park bird – the crane, which, with its 120-centimeter height and a wingspan of over two meters, struts around in marshes and fields, trumpeting like a little elephant

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The crane is a very large bird, measuring 100-120 cm in height and having a wingspan of 180-220 cm. In flight, it extends its neck and holds its long, slender legs backward. Its plumage is grayish, with the front of its neck being black, and a white stripe extends from the eyes down the back of the neck. The crown has a red spot that is most visible when the crane is agitated, threatened, or in a courtship display. Its bill is straight and dagger-shaped, and the inner wing feathers are elongated, forming an ostrich-like tail. In flight, the wings are broad, with distinct black markings.

The crane's trumpeting call is very powerful and can be heard up to five kilometers away, but that's on a quiet day...

The crane can be mistaken for other large birds in flight, such as storks and herons. Storks have shorter necks, shorter legs, and larger heads. Herons fly slowly with a kink in their necks, and their wings lack distinct markings.

Diet and Behavior

Cranes primarily feed on plant matter but also consume small animals and insects.

Cranes arrive at their breeding grounds in Thy during the spring. However, in mild winters, one can also witness cranes staying in the area during the winter months. Especially in April, on calm evenings and mornings, you can hear established crane pairs trumpeting eagerly, or witness their characteristic courtship dance where they parade with rapid, stiff steps. Occasionally, they bow gracefully to each other and leap with outstretched wings.

Cranes breed for the first time at the age of 4-6 years. They establish their nests in remote places, where the female usually lays two eggs. It is mostly the female that incubates the eggs, while the male stands guard against foxes and other predators. The eggs are incubated for 29 to 31 days. Crane chicks are reddish from the beginning, almost pink-colored. After spending a couple of days in the nest, the crane chicks follow their parents around in the terrain. Thereafter, they only use the nest as a place to sleep.

Cranes, with their light gray colors, are relatively easy to spot in the open dune landscapes. However, during the breeding season, crane pairs can almost make themselves invisible when they move around with their newly hatched chicks. As soon as they sense human presence in the area, they become very elusive.

Crane chicks are efficient swimmers. They float on the water's surface like a cork and quickly move through the water. This ability comes in handy when they follow the parental pair in wet terrain. Adult cranes feed their young with protein-rich food, including small fish, frogs, insects, and other small creatures, along with some plant material. A newly hatched crane chick weighs between 120 and 150 grams, but within 10 weeks, it can reach a weight of four kilograms. The chicks become capable of flying at the age of 65-70 days.

The flying crane is part of the logo of Thy National Park. Photo by Jens Kristian Kjærgaard.

Cranes in Thy National Park

The crane is the bird of the wilderness in Northern Europe. It covers vast distances, and if you approach closer than 1000 meters in their breeding areas, they will fly away. Thy National Park is one of the places in Denmark where cranes have the best opportunity to establish themselves and develop their population in peace and tranquility.

Until the early 1800s, cranes likely bred in many heath and marsh areas in Jutland, as many place names suggest. However, for nearly 100 years, cranes had almost disappeared from Denmark. In the 1970s, there were only two breeding pairs in the country, one of which was located in the Hanstholm Wildlife Reserve, which is now part of the national park. It wasn't until 1997 that cranes began to breed on the heaths outside the Hanstholm Wildlife Reserve as well.

Fortunately, things have been improving since then. The Danish population now counts 600-800 breeding pairs, and in particular, the National Park Thy has seen significant growth in breeding cranes, with up to 100 pairs.

Several factors contribute to this success, one of the most important being improved protection of crane breeding sites. For several years, the National Park Thy has worked specifically to create more natural wetlands by, for example, blocking drainage ditches in the natural areas. This provides ideal conditions for cranes, as they require water-covered areas for nesting and can also move around undisturbed in the national park's extensive bird protection areas.

Cranes are shy birds, especially during the breeding season, and so, Northern Europe's tallest bird is keeping a low profile at the moment while pairs tend to their nests. Approaching within 1000 meters of their breeding areas might cause the birds to fly away. So, help protect cranes by enjoying them from a safe distance, preferably with binoculars.