The Sandhill Cranes of Kearney, Nebraska
When pioneers crossed the Great Plains in their wagon trains, were they awoken by screams and by a sky dark with birds? In the evening, did they hear noises on the Platte River and wonder what new terror was approaching?
After visiting the Sandhill Cranes in Kearney, Nebraska, I’ve wondered if there are any first-hand accounts of pioneers encountering the birds. If you know of any, please send me information at Julie@JvLBell.com
For those that don’t know about the Sandhill Crane migration, every February through April, a half million Sandhill Cranes descend on the area around Kearney, Nebraska (Fort Kearney), taking a three-to-six-week rest from their northward migration. During the gold rush, the Cranes visited a three-hundred mile stretch along the Platte River. Now, because of farming and other man-made issues, many now visit Kearney, eating and increasing their weight by almost thirty percent before they fly on to their nesting grounds in Canada, Alaska, and even Siberia.
While they are in Kearney, they eat, make tons of noise, and dance. In the evening, as the sun goes down, they drop down to roost on the shallow sandbanks of the river, forming large swarms that sound like a banshee is attacking. In the morning, one Crane will take off and they all rise into the air, turning the sky black with their wings while they screech, squawk, and fill the quiet morning air with noise.
During the day, a visitor can drive around the area and find them everywhere, eating in corn fields, dancing their unusual mating ritual, and of course, making noise. Sandhill Cranes are not stealth birds.
If you visit, I recommend booking a morning or evening viewing in the Audubon Iain Nicolson Center at Rowe Sanctuary. The two to three-hour tour is worth every cent. The guides are great, the money goes to a good cause, and the blind is on the river, giving you unbelievable views of the birds. It is cold, so put on your snowsuit and then add another layer. You’ll be so mesmerized by the Cranes you won’t realize you’re freezing until you can no longer feel your fingers.
Listen to the sound of the Sandhill Cranes.
Author J.v.L. Bell is a Colorado native who grew up climbing 14,000 ft. mountains, exploring old ghost towns, and hiking in the deserts of Utah. Whenever possible, she and her family can be found hiking, rafting, or cross-country skiing.
Julie writes historical fiction and non-fiction based in Colorado. Her historical mystery series (The Lucky Hat Mine and soon to be released Denver City Justice) are set in Idaho Springs in 1863 and Denver in 1864 respectively. Her non-fiction biography of Elizabeth Byers, Denver Pioneer and wife of Rocky Mountain News editor, William Byers, is aimed at 5th graders.