Can you imagine the sight and sounds of hundreds of thousands of cranes?
More than 400,000 sandhill cranes have landed in Platte River in Nebraska, and to view them, thousands of tourists are flocking to the location as well!
Nebraska is a stopping point for about 80% of the sandhill crane population, as they migrate from their winter grounds in the Gulf coast to their nesting grounds as far north as Alaska and Canada. They gather along the Platte River each spring to rest and feed before continuing their journey.
The Graceful Sandhill Crane
These tall and graceful birds live in the wetlands, marshes and prairies of North America. There is a good chance you might have seen them, for they are the most abundant species among the 15 different species of cranes. The whooping crane is the largest and most endangered.
Sandhill cranes can be recognized by their gray bodies and crimson cap on their heads, and their characteristic bugle calls which can be heard from miles away. They feed on seeds, berries, insects, snails and small mammals from the bogs and marshes. The cranes are known for their brilliant dance displays, as they bow, stretch their wings and leap into the air to woo their partners!
Every breeding season, females nest in the wetlands and usually lay two eggs. However, only one fledgling normally survives the predators such as wolves, coyotes, ravens, and eagles. Cranes can fight back predators by leaping and kicking at aerial ones, and hissing and chasing away the land predators. So if you get too close to these cranes, watch out for their stampede!
The Great Migration
Some sandhill cranes such as the ones from Florida do not migrate. However, for the groups of sandhill cranes that do migrate, they travel from Florida and Mexico and across the United States into Canada, Alaska and even Siberia!
Although these birds are not endangered (in fact, they are considered “least concern"), they could potentially be harmed by the disappearance of wetland habitats they use for landing. In fact, dams in Nebraska have been slowly draining away the wetlands. While the birds are not physically harmed by the appearance of these dams, all 400,000 or so now have to crowd in just 20 miles of river space whereas years ago, they had four times as much space! If efforts are not made to conserve the wetlands, it could pose a threat to future generations of cranes.
But, for now, let’s enjoy the gathering of the sandhill cranes and listen to their bugling calls of summer.