Hail! Hail! The cranes are here!

Moseley - Crane

It’s on … this year’s version of what’s been called the greatest animal migration spectacle in the world.
Sandhill cranes are pouring onto and near the Platte River in central Nebraska by the thousands and it is happening right now. A recent aerial survey estimated the numbers at some 38,000 and growing daily by leaps and bounds.

The birds arrived earlier than historically normal last year and began descending into the region’s specifically well-suited habit even sooner this early spring.

Thousands are feeding today in fields a few miles south of the river below Grand Island and Alda. They are also beginning to show up in the Kearney area. Typically the ancient, flying relics appear first on the eastern end of their spring roosting, feeding and resting stretch of the river, then later fill in the west.

Because of the arrival timing, the Crane Trust Center located at the Alda exchange on I-80 begins guided tours a couple weeks before the Audubon Center’s farther west near the Gibbon exchange.

An estimated one million sandhill cranes, and usually some endangered whooping cranes as well, stop along the river to dine and dance – the latter an entertaining show in itself – before moving on to summer breeding grounds in the northern U.S., Canada and Siberia, among other destinations. Some of the birds are known to begin their annual migration as distant as South America.

A separate but similarly striking performance is playing out across wetlands in the Rainwater Basin. Hundreds of new or rehabilitated wetland habitat tracts, essential to ducks, geese, shorebirds and many other species that rely upon them each spring, stretch south of the interstate from York to west of Kearney.

Google the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture for information on those sites, all of which are accessible to the public.

These cranes were photographed the morning of February 22 south of I-80 near Grand Island. Birds roost on sand bars and in shallow water on the river at night where they are protected from predators. Each morning they rise, either a few dozen at a time or in a mass exodus of thousands should a coyote appear on the river bank or an eagle show itself, then disperse to fields on expansive adjacent farm ground.

A wealth of information including maps, driving tour routes, viewing tips and crane etiquette is available either online, riverside at the Crane Trust and Rowe sanctuaries, or chamber visitor centers at York, Grand Island and Kearney.

Moseley - Cranes

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