Hungary’s Hortobagy National Park is one of the most important staging areas globally for the common cranes, which stop over there on their flyway from northern Europe to Africa, to feed and gather strength before the long journey.
This autumn their stopover does not seem to end, with an estimated over 163,000 cranes still roosting in the national park over the past weekend.
Attila Szilagyi, a nature protection guard at the park, said this was due to warm temperatures of above 20 degrees Celsius in October, and because there was plenty of food available this year on nearby corn fields, contrary to 2022 when a drought hit the region.
“And there was also a positive natural phenomenon, as we had winds blowing from the south so the cranes felt no inclination to start off on their journey southbound, as they had a safe roosting area here, with food, and favourable weather,” Szilagyi said, using his binoculars to observe the large birds, which can have a wingspan of around 2 metres.
“The normal migration cycle of the cranes lasts from mid-September until end-October, early November. Now it’s November already, and the cranes are here in masses.”
Szilagyi said that as winters get milder, some flocks of cranes have been using the southern parts of Hungary near the Serbian border as a wintering ground.
The number of cranes staging in the Hortobagy National Park area has been increasing since the 1980s. The cranes roost in undisturbed large drained fishponds and shallow marshes. After sunrise they set off to feed on nearby cornfields, where they can find waste seeds after the harvest.
Late in the afternoon, they return to the marshland to roost for the night and socialise, as this is when young cranes learn crucial life skills and behaviours.