Nebraska Seasonal February 03, 2020
600,000 Sandhill Cranes Invade Central Nebraska Every Spring And It’s A Sight To Be Seen
Every spring, Nebraska becomes host to more than 600,000 winged visitors. These tourists converge on a small swath of land along the Platte River for a few weeks to fatten up and rest before continuing on their long journey. These special visitors are sandhill cranes, and their presence is an exciting part of late winter/early spring in Nebraska.
The large birds spend the colder months in Mexico or the southern U.S. With the warming weather, they migrate north to Alaska and Canada for the nesting season. Nebraska is a long pit stop for them on their journey - one that we are thrilled to experience each year. The birds can be seen on an approximately 80-mile-long stretch of Nebraska in the Grand Island/Hastings/Kearney area.
The massive number of sandhill cranes passing through Nebraska represent an unbelievable 80% of the world’s population of this species. They swoop in beginning in mid to late February and stay for four to six weeks.
If you’ve never before witnessed the event, you will have to trust that it is truly breathtaking. There is a delicate grace about these large birds, and seeing hundreds of thousands of them in one place is nothing short of magical. But even more spectacular is the sound.
The birds are constantly in motion and constantly sounding off. The calls of so many birds roll up together and swirl around human spectators, becoming almost disorienting at times. Seeing and hearing this spectacle is - for nature lovers, anyway - intoxicating. Time seems to lose all meaning as you drink in the sights and sounds of one of nature’s most incredible displays.
Fossils show that the cranes have been making this stop on their annual trek for millennia. Today, they have a symbiotic relationship with the farmers in the area. The birds feast on corn left in the fields after harvest time, allowing them to put on much-needed body weight before the next long leg of their journey. The farmers are happy to oblige since that means they can then start out the planting season with nicely cleaned fields.
Birds aren’t the only creatures that descend on this area of Nebraska in the spring. A huge number of dedicated nature lovers make the trek to Nebraska every year to view the sandhill crane migration. The Audubon Society hosts the annual Nebraska Crane Festival to celebrate the migration. The event includes field trips, exclusive experiences, workshops, and presentations for the die-hard birder.
Even if you’ve never been much of a bird watcher, everyone should make an exception for the spring sandhill crane migration. This natural event is beyond compare, and it happens every year only in Nebraska.
If you’re looking forward to planning a trip to see the cranes this spring, visit the
Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary or check out the crane viewing tours hosted by the Crane Trust.
Have you ever witnessed Nebraska’s amazing sandhill crane migration? Tell us about your experience – and share your favorite photos! – in the comments.