Cranes on the Platte River

One of the greatest birding spectacles in North America and, indeed, on the planet, is the staging of up to 600,000 sandhill cranes along the Platte River in early spring.  Congregating along an 80 mile stretch of the river, the cranes begin to arrive in mid February and move on by mid April; peak numbers generally occur in late March.

Having wintered in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico, the mid-Continental population of sandhill cranes funnels through south-central Nebraska, on their way to breeding grounds from northern Canada to Siberia.  The great majority stop to rest and feed in the Platte River Valley, gathering on sandbars at night and dispersing to wet meadows and cornfields during the day.  Joining the cranes are bald eagles and migrant flocks of waterfowl and the annual spectacle attracts some 70,000 human visitors from across the globe.

The Audubon National Crane Festival, established in 1971, is held in Kearney, Nebraska; this year, it will run from March 20-23.  Those unable to travel to Nebraska are encouraged to view Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary Crane Cam, which captures the sights and sounds of the Platte River Valley and its avian visitors; my thanks to Chuck Robertson, from Huntsville, Alabama, who brought the cam to my attention.