Sandhill Cranes - Bird Watching Spectacle In Nebraska By Ric Chamberlin, LMT
Central Nebraska is host of one of the greatest bird watching spectacles in the world, the annual spring migration of Sandhill Cranes. I have made this trek countless times but each time I am in awe of what I see and hear.
Each year after wintering in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico the cranes make the Platte River valley of central Nebraska a stopover in their journey to breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. They start arriving sometime in February, staying about one month to feed on invertebrates and waste corn in the fields along the Platte River. The arrival and departure is staggered with the last cranes leaving by mid April. This stop in Nebraska allows the cranes to add body fat that will sustain them for the rest of their trip and for the initial nest building in the tundra areas in the north.
Cranes spend their night in the shallow Platte River, arriving at dusk. They like it’s wide banks to provide them safety from predators. At sunrise they take to the fields to feed. Approximately 500,000 cranes make their way to a relatively narrow stretch of the Platte between Grand Island and North Platte. The peak numbers occur about the third week of March but Large numbers are often present in early March. An added bonus in the first half of March is the large number of Snow Geese, Canada Geese, and eagles present.
What I love most about the cranes is their trumpeting call. It can carry for a long distance and is the most primal sound I’ve ever experienced in the natural world. Fossil record show that Cranes of undetermined species have been in Nebraska for 10 million years and Sandhill Cranes have been visiting at least 2 1/2 million years.
A central point in Crane viewing is The Audubon Society Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon Nebraska. They protect many acres along the Platte where the Crane concentration is greatest. Trips to view Crane roosting at sunrise and sunset are available from blinds along the river. During the migration you can hear/view a live webcam from Rowe Sanctuary. Note that these views of the river will not show cranes during the day, only around sunrise and sunset. You may see geese and eagles during the day or hear Cranes in the background. The link to the webcam can be found on the Rowe Sanctuary website.
I do my viewing between Grand Island and Kearney. Starting on The Platte River Road at Doniphan if you travel west along the back roads you will see, and hear, Cranes in the fields just about everywhere during the migration season. Some of these back roads are seldom traveled and you can pull off to the side for viewing. Other roads require looking for designated pulloff viewing areas. There are many. Your car makes an excellent blind and can protect you from the cold and wind you are likely to encounter on the Nebraska plains in March. While viewing notice the dance the birds often do. Another plus is that with the transition from winter you can witness many other signs of the emergence of spring making this trip a great way to celebrate spring.
For more photos, videos, and more information:
Photos, video, and information about places where you can view cranes can be found here.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have a page with info and videos here.
If you haven’t taken the opportunity to view this spectacle in Nebraska you are missing out on a natural treat. Words and photos can’t describe the experience. After more than 15 trips the only word I can use to describe it is awe.
Ric Chamberlin Registered Practitioner - Society of Ortho-Bionomy International ® Licensed Massage Therapist - State of Nebraska The Healing Connection 900 S 74th Plaza, Suite 116, Omaha, NE 68114 402 850 0752