Sandhill Crane Migration

DSC_0030Erin and I took off work on Friday to make a long drive more than half way across Nebraska to Kearney, a medium sized town near the Platte River.  From there we visited the Fort Kearney recreation area at sunset and sunrise to see one of the most spectacular wildlife displays in North America: Part of the Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)  migration.  Sandhill Cranes overwinter in the South Western US, mainly parts of Texas and New Mexico and breed and raise chicks in Canada and Alaska even north of the Arctic circle and into Siberia.  The Platte River Valley is a place for the cranes to gain some much needed calories to complete their migration north.  Before humans made this part of Nebraska into a corn farming center, the cranes ate native grasses, tubers and aquatic animals found on wet prairies and along the Platte River.  Now 80% of Crane’s diet is waste corn found in fields not yet in use.  In the middle of the day, the corn fields near Kearney are full of cranes for a few weeks every year.  At night the cranes roost on spits of sand in the river where they’re more protected from wildlife as they sleep.  In the evening just before sunset you can see enormous flocks, small flocks, big flocks of cranes all flying over the river to find a places to bed down for the night.  The morning around sunrise is much the same, cranes flying in mass away from the river towards corn fields where they can gain needed calories for the rest of their flight.  If you’ve never heard a crane before, they have an eerie, beautiful trilling call like few other birds.  You can hear one here near the bottom of the page.  The migration of Sandhill Cranes, like all of the great migrations is under threat by many things but also a vital dance of beautiful creatures.  Migrations like this one connect us to an ancient world that I hope is never lost.


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