Common Crane (Grus grus) is a species of limited distrubution and declining population within Armenia and is considered endangered in the National Red Data Book. Once considered part of the eastern subspecies (Grus grus lilfordi), the population found in Armenia was determined to be a seperate subspecies, G. grus archibaldi. Distinguishing charicteristics include lack of a red patch on the back of the head, yellow eye colour, and black skin papillae that run from the base of the bill to the top of the head. The range of this new subspecies is restricted to the Armenian northwest, Javakheti region of Georgia, and Kars region of Turkey. As of now, the only known breeding area is the waterlogged meadows and wetlands near Lake Arpi in northwestern Armenia.
ASPB began monitoring the Common Crane in 2003. Once found in several wetland areas across Armenia, it is now restricted to Lake Arpi. We have continued to monitor breeding activity and ensure that nesting sites are not disturbed through the local caretaker's aid. Lake Arpi National Park has also been recently established, providing greater protection for crane habitat.
At the 2007 Cranes of the Palearctic International Conference held in Rostov-on-Don, Russian Federation, ASPB biologist Mamikon Ghasabyan presented the current distribution and population estimates of the Common Crane in Armenia and offered to organize a joint scientific expedition to study the Armenian breeding population of cranes.Russian ornithologist Valentin Ilyeshenko took Ghasabyan up on the offer and made a trip to Armenia in the spring of 2008 to study a small group of cranes nesting in the Shirak Region. Along with specimens from the Institute of Zoology NAS RA's collections, the research revealed that Armenia's Common Crane population is morphologically different than the subspecies previously ascribed to occur and breed in Armenia (Grus grus lilfordi).
Threats to the Common Crane
The most immediate threat to the local Crane population is poaching. The hunting season occurs in the Fall (Aug-Feb), but Cranes may be illegally targeted during this time as they prepare for their fall migration. Poaching also occurs during the Spring, when poachers are out hunting for Snipe, further disturbing newly arrived Cranes and their breeding activities. Secondly, livestock are set out to graze around the Crane's wetland habitat. During years of lower snowfall, the water levels drop sooner in the flooded meadows and wetlands where the Cranes nest, making it easier for grazing livestock to enter and disturb nest sites. Human disturbance is a third factor threatening these birds. When foraging in pastures, Cranes and their chicks may encounter humans, causing the adults to disperse temporarily. This leaves the chicks vulnerable to predation. Lastly, the inconsistant levels of regular precipitation, possibly brought on by global climate change, reduces prime habitat and breeding site availability.
Occurs in mountain steppe landscapes of up to 2200 m containing small wetlands with sedges, cattails, reeds, and other emergent vegetation. Prefers areas of wetlands which have low vegetation and sedge tussocks, avoiding tall vegetation which may obstruct visibility. These wetland habitats often neighbor pastures, cultivated grain fields, and meadows, increasing interactions with humans and livestock. Birds can be found foraging for seeds, worms, insects, and other invertabrates across these wetland landscapes and mountain steppe. Suitable nesting habitat is among swampy sedge meadows where a massive round platform of marsh vegetation is constructed upon a tussock.
Education and Outreach
Informing the local public is of great importance to the continued existance of the Common Crane in Armenia. Communication with village leaders, shepherds, school children, and hunters, is largely done through our local IBA Caretakers. They ensure not only continuous monitoring of the only known breeding site at Amasia IBA, but also convey the importance of the Crane through dialogue with locals. In 2010, ASPB announced that the Common Crane was “Bird of the Year”, highlighting the species in our outreach program. “Crane- Bird of Peace” festival was also held that same year in the Lake Arpi IBA (Shirak Region). The celebration included art work and handicrafts by local school chidren showcasing the Crane, as well as a competiton among the participating schools for best poem, best drawing, best handicraft and staged performance. Ten local communities within Shirak Region took part in the festival, bringing a greater understanding for this remarkabe species and the need for its immediate protection. Presentations and activities have been conducted for several years in local schools throught the areas where the species occurs, ensuring a greater understanding of the Crane.