This weekend marks the start of one of the greatest natural spectacles in the world, when some 500,000 sandhill cranes descend on the Platte River Valley near Kearney, Nebraska. This is around 80% of the entire global population of sandhill cranes, and they stop off in the state to plump up on the plentiful food before continuing their migration north through to Canada, Alaska, and even as far as Siberia.
To celebrate this astounding avian event, there is the Crane Watch Festival (March 21 to 30) in Kearney and alongside Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival (March 20 to 24). Like the birds themselves, participants often travel long distances themselves, eager to view the swooping wings and crowded congregations of cranes. The birds have long used the Platte River area as a breeding ground, with crane fossils in the area dating back 10 million years. The sandhill cranes are most abundant from late March through to April and are joined by the migration of millions of other birds, including Whooping Cranes, shorebirds, and eagles.
If you can’t make it to Nebraska, there’s an online Crane Cam at the Roe Sanctuary to see the river roost (Audubon advises checking in a sunrise and sunset for optimal online voyeurism).
For more on Nebraska’s great crane migration, visit Atlas Obscura…