Between the months of the late February and early April, over 600,000 Sandhill Cranes annually pause at the Platte River Valley in Nebraska before continuing north for the summer. Eighty percent of the world’s Sandhill crane population congregates along the Platte River to fill up on leftover corn in farm fields before leaving for their
Between the months of the late February and early April, over 600,000 Sandhill Cranes annually pause at the Platte River Valley in Nebraska before continuing north for the summer. Eighty percent of the world’s Sandhill crane population congregates along the Platte River to fill up on leftover corn in farm fields before leaving for their final destinations that can be as far north as Alaska. During the night, the cranes fly from the farm fields to the river to avoid predators by standing in the river. Once dawn breaks every morning, they return to the fields to eat. This cycle continues for their two to three week stay in Nebraska, allowing them to harvest their energy and add 20% to their weight.
Seeing the flocks of Sandhill cranes soaring through the sky is an unforgettable experience. In fact, 12,000 to 15,000 people from around the world travel to Nebraska just to witness the migration of these majestic birds. Many areas along the Platte River are great places to watch the cranes. Some extreme bird enthusiasts may opt to get close to many birds for an extended period of time, choosing to spend $225 to stay in a “photo blind” from the Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary. This is an extreme option because participants stay overnight in the blind, which is only eight feet long, six feet wide, and four feet tall. The bathroom is a bucket in the corner; participants aren’t allowed to leave the blind under any circumstances due to the close proximity to the birds. Once all the cranes have left the river in the morning, someone picks the bird watchers up. The night stay in the blind isn’t comfortable due to the poor protection from outdoor temperatures and the potential of mice scurrying around, but the purpose of reserving a blind is to get a close view of the cranes so–in that aspect– it’s definitely worth it.
Of course these photo blinds aren’t the only option out there. The Rowe Sanctuary offers great views of large flocks through two-hour tours. Hiking the trails of Fort Kearney State Park is another option. Plus, the bridge over the Platte River is the perfect place to watch cranes because they fly over the bridge to land in the river. Besides, plenty of cranes can be seen while driving country roads in the daytime. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission advises not to approach the birds because they will burn precious calories needed for migration.
All in all, there are many options to satisfy your crane viewing needs. There’s even an annual crane festival held in Kearney, Nebraska, but unfortunately they have reached the maximum number of participants possible so they are not accepting any more registrants. That just proves the number of crane enthusiasts out there! If you have no big travel plans for spring break, consider visiting Kearney, Nebraska, the Crane Capital of the World!