Sunday, March 07, 2021

Whooping Crane Migration

Platte River Valley is on migration path for Whooping Cranes


Whooping Crane
                                                                                                                    Photo courtesy of

Poor planning I guess, but whenever we leave on a trip it takes most of the day to get out of the house. We were exhausted by the time we got four hours from home so we stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Grand Island, Nebraska. It is off the road about 10 miles but worth the trip because it was less busy than the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Kearney. 

In the morning we stopped at the Nebraska Nature and Visitor Center which is off exit 305 on Interstate 80. The Center was closed during the pandemic. So we drove further west on the Interstate to the Rowe Sanctuary, which is about five miles south of the Interstate at exit 285. While the Center is closed, Audubon volunteers are onsite from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and have opened blinds which allow visitors to view the Platte River and Basin, looking North. 

The Platte River is on the spring migration route for Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Cranes. Some 500 plus whooping cranes migrate through the Central Flyway during the months of April and October/November.  This is far surpassed by the number of Sandhill Cranes, which number is over a million. An endangered bird, the Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America - over five feet tall, with a wing span of 7.5 feet. If you get a chance to see one (we didn't), its imposing stature, angel white plumage, black mask, and red crown make it an amazing sight. The Whooping Crane nests in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. If you see a whooping crane, please report it to Whooper Watch (888.399.2824) or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (308.865.5310).

When we arrived after noon at the Rowe Sanctuary, a few bald eagles were feeding on bird carcasses but the Sandhill Cranes had lifted off and were feeding in farmers' fields across from the Center. We watched in fascination as hundreds of Sandhill Cranes dropped down into the fields to feed on last fall's stocks and leftover corn.  The volunteers indicated that about 600,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate through the Platte River Basin in March and April on their way to nesting grounds on the tundra in Northern Canada, Alaska, and even Siberia. They stay in the Platte River area about three weeks, the volunteers said. 

The Sandhill Crane while flying may look a lot like, geese except that geese fly in V formations. Sandhill Cranes have a longer tail. The Sandhill Cranes are a magnificent bird, 3-4 feet tall, with 5 foot wingspan. They can fly up to 450 miles a day. They lay 1-2 eggs a year and have a lifespan of 20-25 years. Whooping Cranes have a similar lifespan and fly up to 500 miles a day.They lay two eggs a year.

Whooping Crane
                                                                                            Photo from