Headed North, Sandhill Cranes Squeeze In Where They Can

You’ll hear it before you see it.

The ancient call of a single crane can trumpet out for miles. And when they all cry out at once the sound multiplies by the tens or hundreds of thousands.

The Sounds of Sandhill Cranes

Each spring, around half a million sandhill cranes descend upon a small stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska on their way north to Canada, Alaska and Siberia, from their winter homes in Mexico and the Southwest. Starting around Valentine’s Day through the first half of April, they rest there to prepare for nesting up north.

Thousands of visitors come from all over the world to greet them. This year, biologists at the Crane Trust estimated around 400,000 cranes roosted at the migration’s peak between March 8 and 16. But a quarter-million or so cranes are still gracing the valley with their majesty. As tours become less packed, now is a good time to see them — and hear them.

“The experience — maybe even 60 to 70 percent of it is the sounds,” said Bill Taddicken, director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska. “It sounds a lot like a football stadium when your favorite team scores a touchdown.”

Mr. Taddicken says you cannot see the birds, which migrate thousands of feet above the earth, until they descend.

“These tiny little specks of pepper in the sky will emerge, and then they’ll drop down, become cranes, and they’re here,” he said.

In a single day, the number of birds in the valley can increase by 50,000 or 100,000, crowding the skies like monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz,” Mr. Taddicken said.

But this Oz is real — and critical — for the nearly 80 percent of the world’s sandhill crane population that arrives here.

The river, agricultural fields and wet meadows provide all the protection and nutrients they need to become fit and stock up on energy for…

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