Friday, February 22, 2008

Sandhill Cranes

In the birding world Nebraska is well known for the migration of the Sandhill Cranes every spring. Every year 500,000 cranes (more than 80% of the world's Sandhill Crane population) descend on the state of Nebraska between late February and early April. It is truly a birding spectacle.

I wasn't into birding when I moved to Nebraska. The first spring I was here, a number of my co-workers told me that I had to go see the cranes. So one Sunday a friend and I headed off to see the cranes. We were so fascinated we found a store and each bought a pair of binoculars to see them better. (Turned out to be pretty crummy binoculars, but they served the purpose that day!) I took a bunch of pictures. Some of the pictures I took were of some white birds...took the pictures into work and learned they were Snow Geese. The seed was planted and eventually I became more and more interested in birding or birdwatching...whichever term you prefer. I frankly think the parsing of those two terms is kind of silly, but whatever.

A few facts about Sandhill Cranes

  • They are 3 to 4 feet tall
  • Their wingspan is 6 feet
  • They weigh 8 to 12 pounds
  • Their flight speed is 38 mph
  • They can migrate 170 to 450 miles in a day
  • They nest in Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia
  • They begin to mate at 3-4 years of age
  • They mate for life
  • They lay 2 eggs per year
  • Their lifespan is 20 to 40 years

The cranes come to rest and refuel before continuing north to their respective breeding grounds. They need the time in Nebraska to put on weight and store energy for the rest of their migration. About 90 percent of their diet is corn, which quickly adds fat. The other 10 percent of their diet includes insects, earthworms, snails and plants which provide essential proteins for migration and egg production.

They roost at night in the shallow waters of the Platte River. The river provides protection from predators, and spend the days in the surrounding fields.

In the next few days I'll do at least a couple more posts on these glorious birds.


Anonymous said...

We've visited Nebraska the last two years to see the cranes, we're from Wisconsin. We also watch them on the live cam on the National Geographic site. When about do the cranes start coming in? (Date)

kayleen said...

The Nebraska birding hotline has reported sightings already. They were heard coming into roost on the Platte River on Feb. 7. Sightings of limited numbers were posted on the 14th and 16th.

The main influx is in March and extends into early April.

The largest numbers can be seen in mid-March.

Anonymous said...

When do the cranes start to leave? I live in Wi. and thought I heard one on march 9th. Is that possible?

BAfutbol said...

Rosalie Winard has a nice blog entry about sand hills here