Reunion on the Platte

By mid February, migrant sandhill cranes begin to gather along an 80-mile stretch of the Platte River, in south-central Nebraska.  They are traveling northward from wintering grounds in West Texas, Mexico and eastern New Mexico, headed for northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

Their number will peak in late March, when 600,000 cranes stop to rest and feed along the Platte, and most will depart by mid April.  This reunion of sandhill cranes attracts hordes of humans as well and the annual Audubon Crane Festival is held in Kearney in late March.  Those unable to visit Nebraska are advised to check out the Rowe Sanctuary's Crane Cam, which gives one a feel for the sights and sounds of the rendezvous site (including the intense winds that frequently rake the Great Plains); my thanks again to Chuck Robertson, from Huntsville, Alabama, who brought the cam to my attention.

Cam viewing is best in the late daylight hours and during the hours just after sunrise, when the cranes move to and from their sandbar roosts; they spend the night on the broad, shallow Platte, which offers protection from coyotes and other predators.  During the day, the sandhill cranes spread out across regional crop fields, wetlands and grasslands to feed on waste grain, tubers and a variety of invertebrates.