Nebraskaland March 2019

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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28 Nebraskaland • March 2019 Sandhill cranes dance on their roost on the Platte River in Hall County, part of a courtship ritual that takes place during a stopover on their annual spring migration. Crane Moves Sandhill Cranes Arriving Earlier, Shifting East on Platte STORY AND PHOTOS BY ERIC FOWLER T housands of sandhill cranes will have arrived on the Platte River in central Nebraska by the time you read this. In the weeks to come, there may be 600,000 or more on the river on a given night, with some yet to arrive from their wintering grounds to the south and others having already continued their northward migration. This gathering of more than 80 percent of the mid-continent population of cranes is one of the great wildlife spectacles anywhere, drawing bird watchers from around the world to Kearney, Grand Island and towns in between. Changes in fl ows and habitat on the Platte and the availability of food around it during the past century prompted the birds to congregate in a limited number of reaches within the 76 miles of river they now frequent. And according to a new study led by Andrew Caven, director of conservation research at the Crane Trust, the phenomenon is still evolving. Cranes continue to move, leaving behind roosts in the western reaches of the central Platte River Valley for better habitat in the east. The cranes are also arriving earlier and staying longer. With more birds packed into a smaller area, biologists are left to wonder what the future holds. Cranes and the Platte Scientists believe sandhill cranes have been stopping on the Platte River during their spring migration for 2 to 10 million years. While records are sparse, the tall, lanky birds are thought to have been dispersed throughout its length in the state before Euroamerican settlers arrived on the Plains. The wide, braided river and its many sandbars provided ideal roosting habitat, and the adjacent meadows held plenty of

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