Cranes invade central Nebraska

Sandhill+Cranes+standing+in+a+field

Sandhill Cranes standing in a field

Sandhill Cranes fly into Kearney during annual migration north

By BRAYDON CONELL

The cranes talking as they stand in a field.

After a prolonged winter, the famous Sandhill Crane migration that brings people to central Nebraska finally arrived. A large flock of these birds gathered in a field on the north side of the interstate at the Minden exit.

Sandhill Cranes get their name from the sandy river beds they like to gather around, such as the Platte River. These cranes rub brown or red mud found in these rivers on their feathers to preen themselves which can give a tint to the grey feathers of their body.  

During the migration period, these large birds condense and fly over a swath of central Nebraska before spreading out into Canada and Alaska. These cranes circled the historical marker on Highway 10 north of Minden.

Every year, Sandhill cranes arrive in the area between Feb. and April peaking in March. Due to the prolonged winter and harsh blizzard and flooding, the migration was delayed a few weeks and there were not many birds until late March. In Nebraska, bird counts jumped from 13,000 to 300,000 birds in just one day. 

While Sandhill cranes can be seen while just driving down the highways, a “must-go” spot for visitors and birdwatchers is the Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center located at the Alda exit, just west of Grand Island. Every year, the Trust organizes tours along the Platte River to promote their mission of protecting and providing habitat for the cranes. 

Many cranes prepare to take flight after resting in a corn field north of Minden. Sandhill cranes vary in size, but males average 10.1 pounds and females average 8.9 pounds and have wingspans between 5.5 and 7.5 feet. When these birds flock together, their signature loud, trumpeting call can be heard all around.