Sandhill cranes hanging out in Nebraska

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes will be dining in cornfields in central Nebraska, as they rest and eat to gain strength for their northern migration.

They’re baaaccckkk! And it’s a beautiful sight. Sandhill cranes have started their annual migration through the Central Flyway, which encompasses about 100 miles of Nebraska’s Platte River valley. The prehistoric birds have migrated to roost among the river’s sandbars between Grand Island and North Platte for thousands of years. Kearney is considered Ground Zero for the birds.

More than 500,000 Sandhill cranes will each spend roughly two weeks in the area, resting and eating on grains and corn leftovers in area farm fields.

Sandhill cranes

If you are respectful and let the birds do their thing, you can get some nice views to watch

This year, the migration seems to have started earlier. More than 80,000 Sandhill cranes have been spotted in the area since mid-February. The bulk of the migration will get underway in early March and last through early April. We are planning our annual trip in late March.

During their stay, another migration occurs. Thousands of people from across the United States, even other countries, will flock to the area to get a look at this spectacular event. It attracts scientists and researchers, wanting to know more about the Sandhill cranes. Even celebrities make their way to the area. Famed anthropologist Jane Goodall has visited with Warren Buffett and others. Goodall has proclaimed the Sandhill crane migration as a must-see visit.

Sandhill cranes

The cranes arrive and take off throughout the day, moving from one field to another

We love seeing the cranes. Lisa and I made our first trip to Kearney in the early 2000s. We were smitten with the birds right away. We’ve made it an annual event for at least the past decade. Family and friends have joined us along the way. We’ve all enjoyed watching the birds dine in the fields, take flight and land.

We’ve checked out various spots along the way to view the birds, but we usually keep returning to the Kearney area. We have found “our” spots for best bird viewing, and figure why mess with a good thing? Last year, we had an enjoyable trip to Grand Island for crane watching, courtesy of the Grand Island visitors bureau. The trip included an early morning viewing at the Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center.

The evening’s return to nest is one of the most beautiful views a person can witness. The colors of the sky fill with dark spots for miles and miles, as flocks come home. The sounds of the birds’ trumpeting call must be heard to be appreciated.

Sandhill cranes

The cranes head back to their roosts nightly around sunset. Check out the viewing stand south of the Gibbon exit off Interstate 80 for great scenery.

With the annual Sandhill crane migration underway, we recommend visiting central Nebraska and taking in the wonderful experience. I swear your life will be changed for the better.

For more information and crane-watching etiquette, please visit www.cranetrust.org or www.rowe.audubon.org.

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