Many people consider Nebraska a flyover state, but the Sandhill cranes prove it’s the perfect landing spot.
Every year, about half a million stop in the Platte River Valley to fuel up as they migrate north–80 percent of cranes on the planet. This year, more than 600,000 birds have been counted.
“I think the migratory patterns are really interesting, and my husband and I like to do outdoor activities together, so we decided to go look at the cranes,” said Margaret Rubin, a Kearney resident.
The birds were initially delayed due to bad weather. Once it passed, thousands of birds flocked in.
“This particular year, I’ve used the word ‘never’ more times than I’ve ever used the word ‘never.’ …We went from 60 or 70 thousand birds to probably close to 300 thousand,” said Gene Hunt, Fort Kearney State Historical Park superintendent. “We hate to use the word flood gates because of all the floods that we’re having in the state of Nebraska, but once things opened up, they just really flooded in to our area.”
The flooding has concerned some birdwatchers and ornithologists who fear the birds may not find adequate food and nesting areas. Cranes typically stay in the Platte Valley six to eight weeks.
“I Just think it would be scary or a shame if this type of migration pattern was ever disrupted due to climate change,” Rubin said.
Fossil records indicate cranes have been in Nebraska for 9 million years. The cranes that stop in Nebraska migrate north and spread out across the United States, Canada and even Siberia.
“The one number one thing about the migration in the Platte Valley is that it’s been going on for a lot of years,” Hunt said. “It’s just been in the last 20 years that people are really starting to understand the migration and how important it is to protect our natural resources.”
Bob Rhodes, a crane host at Fort Kearney State Historical Park argues it’s the people, not the cranes, that make this migration truly spectacular.
“The cranes are fine, but you meet a lot of nice people here, a lot of them from all over the world actually,” Rhodes said. “It’s always interesting. Europe, Asia, a lot of foreign countries value cranes. Their wedding dresses are embroidered with cranes and so forth, so they come to see them here if they can.”
Both Rhodes and Hunt agree it’s not spring until the birds- and the people- line up along the Platte.