Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sandhill Crane Migration

It was a dreary, rainy morning when we left for Nebraska on Sunday, March 28.  

Director of Education Teri Schroer, intern Tim Kuys and myself, along with five birds of prey, were headed for the Earth Wellness Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, to present seven shows (five on Monday and two on Tuesday) to a bit more than 1,500 fourth grade children.  But once we hit Nebraska, the clouds cleared and it became a beautiful warm sunny day that lasted the whole time we were there.

 Sandhill Cranes in Flight
On Monday the presentations went very well and as soon as we finished, we bolted out the door, got the birds fed up and settled in, and drove to the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center in Grand Island in hopes of seeing the Sandhill Cranes.

About 500,000 migrating Lesser Sandhill Cranes stop to refuel and rest on Nebraska’s Platte River valley from late February to mid-April.  They are arriving from their wintering habitat in Texas, New Mexico and northern Mexico and they each stay for about a month and feed on the waste grain in crop fields during the day.  The shallow channels of the river provide safe sleeping sites – if any predator approaches, the birds will hear the water movement.  Once they gain nearly ten percent of their body weight, the cranes continue migrating to their vast breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.  Sandhill Cranes mate for life, usually laying two eggs a year.  During their time in Nebraska, cranes can be seen dancing around each other or courting.

Lesser Sandhill Cranes are 3 to 4 feet tall, weigh 8 to 12 pounds, have a wingspan of 6 feet, an average lifespan of 25 years and can fly at speeds of up to 38 miles per hour.  During their migration they can travel between 170 and 450 miles per day.

We were able to see thousands and thousands of these cranes just by driving along the country roads in the river valley.  We witnessed thousands of them foraging for grains, insects and small rodents in the crop fields, and we saw thousands of them flying in the sky right above us!  Their distinctive call can be heard up to a mile away.

We were all thrilled that we had this opportunity to witness one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet!

If you would like to see a Sandhill Crane up close you may visit one at the World Bird Sanctuary, where he is on display every day.  He was injured in the wild and would not be able to survive if released, so he will reside with us for the rest of his days.

 Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist


Anonymous said...

Did one of the exhibit sandhills pass away? Or are there still two left?

Photog said...

Unfortunately, the female passed away earlier this year.