Sandhills on the Platte | a 7 Image Story Every year from mid February to the first week of April, most of the planet’s Sandhill Cranes converge along 75-mile stretch of the Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska. The gathering represents the closest thing to the Serengeti we have in the lower 48. It’s one of the world’s top three great wildlife migrations. More than 500,00 Sandhills stop on the Platte to rest and gain weight on their flight from southern USA and Mexico to Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, where the have their young.
If you have never been to this Great Sandhill Crane Migration, it’s worth the trip at least once in your life. Each day, it starts at o’dark thirty along the bends in the Platte River. At first light, the Sandhills begin to lift off the river to eat in nearby corn fields. They take flight in groups of hundreds; even thousands, even 10,000s, at one time. A little sun, a little fog, and a few hundred thousand Sandhill Cranes make for a beautiful sunrise on the Platte River. During the day, the cranes eat grain left over from last fall’s crop, mostly corn, in nearby fields. Then, in late afternoon and early evening, they come back to the river in great flocks to roost overnight on the river. The Platte River in this area is shallow and filled with sand bars. The cranes safely roost on the river since they can hear their predators, like coyotes, coming through the water. Being very smart birds, they actually post sentries to take turns staying awake during the night to warn the flock, if a predator comes their way.
Sandhill Cranes are among the world’s oldest species. They mate for life and return to the same place each year to have their young. They live in freshwater and eat a large variety of foods including plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, or worms. Sandhills usually nest in wetlands. Females lay two eggs while both parents incubate. Males also defend the nest. Sandhills love to sing and dance; leap high in the air. The birds are naturally gray with their heads topped with a crimson crown. Sometimes, they preen themselves by adding a brown mud to their feathers. For more information on Sandhill Cranes and their great migration, see the Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary.
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