Just before winter hits, Eurasian cranes (Grus grus) annually migrate from across Northern Eurasia to warmer climates in the south. Populations from Scandinavia and surrounding countries are typically destined for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, but stop off in central Europe in between. Here, the numerous salty lakes of the Great Hungarian Plain provide an ideal resting place, with the largest gathering taking place in Lake Fehér, close to the southern city of Szeged.
Cranes over Lake Fehér
In 2020, over 14,500 cranes were counted in Lake Fehér alone, with another 9000 counted nearby. Although the skies around Fehér are filled with the silhouettes of cranes, ducks can often be spotted hitching with migrating flocks (in the first photo, 5 of the 11 birds are actually ducks, did you notice?).
Cranes will spend around a month (usually November) resting in these lakes, strengthening social bonds with their flying comrads and feeding to recoup lost energy. Most then leave to continue their journey south, but a small and growing proportion of cranes choose to remain in Hungary instead.
During migratory flights, the oldest and most experienced cranes take the lead. Newly fledged individuals often accompany their parents, and may even be fed by them while resting in the lakes∎