Wild Bird Society of Japan / Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary

Contact us

Wild Bird Society of Japan Address: 3-9-23 Nishi-gotanda, Shinagawa-ku,Tokyo 141-0031 Japan
Phone: 03-5436-2633
Fax: 03-5436-2635
URL: http://www.wbsj.org/
English Translation:
Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (FURUKAWA Setsu, KANEKO Keiko, KASE Tomoko, SAKUMA Shunji, TAKEUCHI Fumie and UENO Naohiro)
Translating Editor:
Meenakshi Nagendran

Birds and Birding

Birds around the sanctuary and surrounding areas

Red-crowned Crane Tancho Grus japonensis Endangered (EN) Special Natural Treasure of Japan
Grus japonensis

L=140, W=240cm. Aynu, indigenous people who had lived by hunting and gathering in severe environment in Hokkaido, thought that spirits inhabited all creatures. The Red-crowned Crane, which lives in the boundless expanse of wetlands, was called 'Sarurunkamui' which means the 'God of Wetland' in their language, with feeling of awe and respect.

The Red-crowned Crane is one of the biggest birds in Japan at 140-150cm and with wingspan of 220-240 cm. The entire body is white, while from bill to neck and a part of wings are black, and the top of the head is red. From its characteristic head color originates the Japanese name of "Tancho"('tan'= red, 'cho'=top). It is a resident species in Japan. About 1,300 individuals live in the eastern part of Hokkaido, and Kushiro Shitsugen is their largest habitat. The bird raises chicks in vast wetlands and it is thought that one pair requires at least 100 ha (1㎢) as a territory.

The Red-crowned Crane is an omnivorous bird which eats small fish, frogs, crayfish, shell fish, insects and seeds of plants.

At Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary, you can easily watch cranes gracefully dancing on the snowfields in winter.

  • Good season to watch the crane:
    Tsurui Village: November - March Best season: December - February
    Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland: April - October Best season: June - August
  • Good sites to watch the crane
    At feeding grounds (in the Sanctuary, Tsurumi-dai and Akan International Crane Center), and at a roost site near Otowabashi bridge
    In wetlands and meadows
Steller's Sea Eagle O-washi Haliaeetus pelagicus Vulnerable (VU) Natural Treasure
Haliaeetus pelagicus

L=95, W=220-245cm. With huge beak in bright yellow and a longer wedge-shaped tail. Overall blackish with distinctive white shoulder (actually, parts of lesser and median coverts are white). This species breeds only along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. In Japan, it visits in winter, mainly in northern Japan, and is especially abundant in the eastern part of Hokkaido. It is often seen along coasts and occasionally in inland rivers and lakes. Basically, a fish eater, but sometimes eats ducks too.

  • Good sites and season to watch the eagle: Tsurui Village and Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland and surrounding rivers and lakes: December - February
White-tailed Eagle Ojiro-washi Haliaeetus albicilla Endangered (EN) Natural Treasure
Haliaeetus albicilla

L=89,W=199-228cm. Wings wide and square shape. Tail white and short in slightly wedged shape. Overall brown, and the body color changes into whitish as it ages. Widely distributing in the Eurasian Continent. The species occurs in eastern Hokkaido throughout the year and breeds there. In winter, the numbers of the bird increase as those migrants from the continent join. The species can be seen along the coasts, lakes and rivers and is often seen together with the Steller's Sea Eagle. Feeding habit is the same as the Steller's Sea Eagle, which mainly eats fish.

  • Good sites and season to watch the eagle: Tsurui Village and Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland and surrounding rivers and lakes: December - February (small numbers stay in summer)
Latham's Snipe Oji-shigi Gallinago hardwickii Near Threatened (NT)
Gallinago hardwickii

L=30cm. Overall brown colored sober bird and hard to distinguish from dry grasses. Long bill is a feature of this species. It feeds earthworms by sticking the bill into the soil. During breeding season, a male bird flies around calling 'zubiyahk zubiyahk' and displays during its descending flight with roaring sound of 'gah gah gah ----' made by its outertail feathers. This species breeds only in Japan and Sakhalin, Russia and migrates to Australia to winter there. In eastern Hokkaido, the bird occurs in grasslands and meadows from lowland to mountain areas.

  • Good sites and season to watch the snipe: Grasslands and meadows in Tsurui Village and Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland: May - August
Long-tailed Rosefinch Beni-mashiko Uragus sibiricus
Uragus sibiricus

L=15cm. Male is deep pink throughout the body and becomes strongly reddish especially in summer. Female overall brown. Two white bars on the wing and a long tail are distinctive both for male and female. The species is distributed in southern Siberia to Primorsky Region in Russia and a part of China and Japan. In eastern Hokkaido, it is commonly seen in open environments like wetlands and grasslands in summer. Most of the population migrates to the south in winter. It sings with a whistle-like soft call like 'pippo pippo'.

  • Good sites and season to watch the finch: Woods at the edge of wetlands, grasslands and meadows in Tsurui Village and Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland: April- October (occasionally, winters in Hokkaido)
Marsh Tit Hashibuto-gara Parus palustris
Parus palustris

L=13cm. Male and female are the same color. Head and throat black and glossy. Bill thick and looks whitish where upper and lower beaks meet. Unlike the Willow Tit Parus montanus, the white part at the edge of secondaries is not distinctive. Distributes in Europe and eastern Asia, and in Japan it occurs only in Hokkaido. Can be seen commonly in urban parks and woods.

  • Good sites and season to watch the tit: Bushlands and forests in Tsurui Village and Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland: all year round
Grey-faced Woodpecker Yama-gera Picus canus
Picus canus

L=30cm. Mantle to wings yellow-green and rump brownish yellow both for male and female. Primaries blackish brown with white spots. Forehead of adult male is red. In Japan, this species occurs only in Hokkaido. Can be seen in mountainous forests all year round and even in lowlands in winter. Male sings with whistle-like descending intonation 'pyoh pyohpyohpyoh ---' during breeding season.


Birding sites around the sanctuary



Another major feeding ground for Red-crowned Crane in Tsurui Village. Many people visit here in winter because of the easy access from the nearby prefectural road. An elementary school was originally located here and the school fed the cranes. After the closing of the school, Mr. & Mrs. Watanabe, residents of the village, started feeding the cranes. The feeding period is from November to March, twice a day at 9:00 am and 2:00 pm. About 300 Red-crowned Cranes appear at the peak period from the end of December to January.

Otowa-bashi Bridge:

Otowa-bashi Bridge

Otowa-bashi bridge is one of the bridges over the Setsuri-gawa river which runs in Tsurui Village. A roost of Red-crowned Crane is formed at the downstream in winter. This site is the only place where people can observe cranes at roost without threatening them. A parking area and sidewalks are well maintained here. In the early mornings in the coldest periods of January and February, flocks of the Crane can be observed roosting here in the river fog, in the mist or sometimes in the diamond dust. Many visitors gather around here to take photos. Occasionally, Steller's Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles appear in forests along the river, and up in the sky.



Onnenai is located in the south-western Kushiro Shitsugen. It is one of the handful places where people can enjoy walking in Kushiro Shitsugen because boardwalks are well equipped. The wetland environments are varied with such as low moors, high moors and alder forests here. In summer, people can hear songs of grassland birds such as Siberian Rubythroat, Black-browed Reed-warbler and Middendorf's Grasshopper-warbler. Yellow-breasted Bunting, which has been sharply decreasing in number in recent years, comes to the high moors. At the entrance to boardwalks, there is a visitor center which provides information about the history and wildlife of Kushiro Shitsugen. In winter, people can walk on the wetland covered with snow all over wearing rental snowshoes.

On the opposite side across the prefectural road, there is Onnenai Wild Bird Protection Area designated by Wild Bird Society of Japan, where breeding of Red-crowned Crane has been confirmed. The site is closed to the public.



Shimokuchoro is a dairy region closest to Kushiro Shitsugen in Tsurui Village bordering on the northern edge of the marsh. There are a lot of water channels in the huge meadow. People can watch non-breeding, immature Red-crowned Cranes from their cars, as well as small birds like Reed Bunting and Russet Sparrow in summer, and in autumn Bean Goose, which migrates through this region (be careful not to disturb the area's traffic and farming work).

Kottaro Shitsugen:

Kottaro Shitsugen

The northern end area of Kushiro Shitsugen is called Kottaro Shitsugen of which panoramic view can be seen from the observation deck on a small hill. A few pairs of Red-crowned Cranes breed in this marsh from spring to summer, which people can see from a long distance. The pebbled road runs from the first observation deck to Tohro-ko lake through the marsh, so that the visitors can easily watch Siberian Rubythroat in summer and Siskin, Redpoll and Pallas's Rosefinch in winter. Raptors such as Buzzard, Steller's Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle are often seen on the trees.

Tohro-ko lake, Shirarutoro-ko lake and Takkobu-ko lake:

Tohro-ko lake, Shirarutoro-ko lake and Takkobu-ko lake

As the reminder that Kushiro Shitsugen was once in the sea, there are a number of lakes in the low-altitude east part of the wetland. Three lakes, Tohro-ko lake, Shirarutoro-ko lake and Takkobu-ko lake, especially, have large water surface, and a good number of bird species use them in spring and autumn before and after the winter freeze. Whooper Swan, Bean Goose, Goosander, Goldeneye and Black-headed Gull visit the lakes in flocks. Many Steller's Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles gather here during the spring thaw. Red-crowned Crane is occasionally seen along the shores of the lakes in summer.

Tohro-ko lake:
25km from the sanctuary. About 40 minutes by car.
About 30 minutes from JR Kushiro Station on JR Sen-Moh Line. Get off at JR Tohro Station and 20 minute-walk.
Shirarutoro-ko lake:
28km from the sanctuary. About 45 minutes by car.
About 40 minutes from JR Kushiro Station on JR Sen-Moh Line. Get off at JR Kayanuma Station and 20 minute walk.
Takkobu-ko lake:
35km from the sanctuary. About 50 minutes by car.
About 20 minutes from JR Kushiro Station on JR Sen-Moh Line. Get off at JR Hosooka Station and 15 minute walk.


Birds to be watched in Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland

So far, 175 bird species, which are about one third of Japanese birds, have been observed in Kushiro Shitsugen area. Birds such as water birds, grassland and forest birds, as well as a great number of migrants, use this area, including about 230 species in Kushiro City including coastal area and 165 species in Tsurui Village where the sanctuary is located.

List of representative birds in Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland

Haliaeetus albicilla White-tailed Eagle Ojiro-washi Bonasa bonasia Hazel Grouse (or Hazel Hen) Ezo-raicho
Grus japonensis Red-crowned Crane Japanese Crane Tancho Strix uralensis japonica Sp.of Ural Owl Ezo-fukuro
Megaceryle lugubris Crested Kingfisher Yama-semi Uragus sibiricus Long-tailed Rosefinch Beni-mashiko
Picus canus Grey-faced Woodpecker Yamaーgera Dendrocopos kizuki Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Ko-gera
Summer Bird
Anas falcata Falcated Duck Yoshi-gamo Gallinago hardwickii Latham's Snipe Oji-shigi
Treron sieboldii White-bellied Green-pigeon Ao-bato Jynx torquilla Wryneck (or Eurasian Wryneck) Arisui
Luscinia calliope Siberian Rubythroat No-goma Turdus chrysolaus Brown-headed Thrush Akahara
Locustella fasciolata Gray's Grasshopper-warbler Ezo-sennyu Phylloscopus borealoides Pale-legged Leaf-warbler Ezo-mushikui
Emberiza aureola Yellow-breasted Bunting Shima-aoji  
Wintrer Bird
Cygnus cygnus Whooper Swan O-hakucho Anas strepera Gadwall Oka-yoshigamo
Mergellus albellus Smew Miko-aisa Haliaeetus pelagicus Steller's Sea Eagle O-washi
Emberiza elegans Yellow-throated Bunting Miyama-hojiro Leucosticte arctoa Asian Rosy-finch Hagi-mashiko
Transient Bird
Anser fabalis Bean Goose Hishikui Anas penelope Wigeon (or Eurasian Wigeon) Hidori-gamo
Tringa glareola Wood Sandpiper Takabu-shigi Emberiza rustica Rustic Bunting Kashiradaka