Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska

Sandhill Cranes flying off to their daytime foraging spots in the fields

Sandhill Cranes flying off to their daytime foraging spots in the fields

We have just returned from the Platte River Valley in Nebraska where we witnessed the migration of Sandhill Cranes.  If you ever have a chance to see this, don’t hesitate, as it is by far the most impressive wildlife spectacle I have ever seen.  During the day you see crowds of cranes feeding on last year’s waste corn in the fields, mile after mile of large gray birds, heads down, fattening up for the rest of their migration.  They’ve come from wintering grounds in the south and funnel through a narrow area around Kearney where they rest and gain strength for a few weeks before continuing on to their nesting areas in the north, even as far as Siberia.

They spend their days grazing over the fields for corn dropped in the fall harvest, fattening up for the trip to their nesting area further north

They spend their days grazing over the fields for corn dropped in the fall harvest, fattening up for the trip to their nesting area further north

In the evening, flock after flock fly in to the river in long skeins.  Here they roost on sandbars in the water as a protection from predators such as coyotes.  As light faded we saw many tens of thousands crowded together, so close together they looked like islands.

They roost for the night on the sandbars in the braided Platte River

They roost for the night on the sandbars in the braided Platte River

In the morning we went to blinds owned by the Rowe Sanctuary before dawn.  The sound they make is unforgettable, a sort of guttural gurgle reminiscent of a turkey to me, but not as assertive.  As dawn comes, the cranes awaken and begin lifting off toward the fields, slowly at first but in greater and greater numbers until the sky is full of them.  On the last evening we watched, an eagle flew down the river sending all the cranes up into the air in panic.  The cacophony of their cries must have been audible for a couple of miles.  After a while they settled back down to roost.  We searched in vain for one of the Whooping Cranes as one had been reported.  It was a long shot, there being only 230 or so Whoopers left in the wild.  We occasionally got to watch the Sandhill Cranes dancing, a part of their pair bonding ritual.

Dancing Cranes

Dancing Cranes

It was a great trip with an added bonus of good steaks.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Linda Morgens said,

    What a fantastic trip!

    Like


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