The Beauty of the Cranes

In almost any culture, crane sightings are meaningful.  They are signs of joy, life, wisdom, beauty, elegance, and grace.

My family drove out to see the Great Crane Migration.  In case you are not familiar, every year between mid-February and mid-April, 80% of North America’s Sandhill cranes come to eat and bulk up in a 50 mile span of the Platte River in central Nebraska.  The area is estimated to feed around 500,000 cranes.  This year, the experts thought there were even more than that.

Jane Goodall rated it as one of her top ten nature attractions in the world.

The birds spend every night in shallow water – the Platte River. It offers them protection because any predator could be heard splashing as it approaches.  But during the day, the cranes spread out to all the local farmer’s fields.  They will gain approximately 32% of their body weight in preparation for the rest of their journey.  Eventually, the cranes will spread out over North America, including arctic Canada and Alaska and some will travel as far as Siberia to roost and lay eggs.  The young will grow to full size in the summer and travel the whole distance back with their parents in September.  Like many birds, cranes mate for life.

Sanchill Cranes in flight. Keep in mind, these birds are almost 4 ft. tall.

Sandhill Cranes in flight. Keep in mind, these birds are almost 4 ft. tall.

We spent time in a bird blind, waking at 4:30 am.  This experience itself is almost supernatural. We awoke in the dark and joined others at the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary.  It was 17 degrees outside with a straight 20 mph wind.  The sanctuary has no lights outside, as that might disturb the birds.  The guides walk you down the half mile to the river in pitch blackness, with an occasional red light so no one falls.  Everyone must silently enter the blind making as little noise as possible.

Unfortunately, on our day, someone the night before had used a flash camera and so the birds got spooked and were a bit of a distance from the blind.

But as dawn approached, the birds began to stir.  The sound is incredible.  As they take flight, their sheer numbers are nothing short of amazing.

During the day, you really see them everywhere.  In the sky, in the fields.  The behavior is fascinating, as they never seem to change.  This has been going on for 600 years, maybe more.

If you’d like to see them yourself, visit

Watch the crane cam around 7-8 pm at night as they gather to rest, or 7-8am in the morning as they take off for the fields.  You get a real feel for the auditory experience as well.

The lesson for me is to recognize our role in nature. We belong, but we don’t own.  We can celebrate it, but never control it.  Peaceful harmony is the goal.  And it only took 500,000 cranes to remind me.

Cranes eating in corn fields.

Sandhill Cranes eating in corn fields.

Cranes take flight in the morning.

Taking flight in the morning. My view from the blind.

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