See Sandhill Crane Migration At Audubon Rowe Sanctuary

Published: Mar 10, 2009
Kearney, NE - 
Each spring over a half-million Sandhill Cranes congregate on Nebraska's Platte River in one of the world's greatest migration spectacles. Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary invites nature enthusiasts, bird lovers, and photography buffs to witness migration via a live CraneCam. Images can be seen on Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary website at www.rowesanctuary.org

For over 30 years, people from all over have come to witness the Sandhill Crane migration. The arrival of the 4-foot-tall cranes on the Platte River signifies the beginning of spring. In addition to the visual spectacle, the call of the crane can be heard for up to a mile away. From March 7 through April 8, a camera placed on an island on the Platte River will provide outstanding views of Sandhill Cranes roosting by the thousands in the shallow water of the Platte. Nebraska Educational Service Unit #10, a Kearney-based broadcasting service, will provide the web-based services and expertise to bring this wild experience into homes around the world. 

The best time to watch the cranes on the CraneCam is early morning, starting from first light to well after sunrise, and from late afternoon until dark. During the day, crane feed in local farm fields and wet meadows; they return to the river to spend the night on submerged sandbars in the river, where they are secure from predators.

The CraneCam will also feature 'Kids and Cranes' on-line educational programs, a fun and, innovative way for students, teachers and families to learn about cranes and to see them in action when they are not at the river. All six programs are available to view throughout the year.

In conjunction with the Sandhill Crane migration, the 39th Annual Rivers and Wildlife Celebration will take place March 20-22 in Kearney. The event, presented by Audubon Nebraska, Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary, and the Nebraska Partnership for All-Bird Conservation, is open to anyone but online registration is required.

Speakers include Pete Dunne director of Cape May Bird Observatory, founder of the World Series of Birding, and author of numerous birding books; Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer and frequent contributor to Audubon Magazine; and Felipe Chavez-Ramirez director of Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust.

Celebration highlights include sunset and sunrise visits to crane viewing blinds along the Platte River, day-long excursions to local wetlands and lakes, and the ever popular crane behavior class.

Rowe Sanctuary's staff and volunteers take visitors to the viewing blinds on the edge of the river where, hidden from the cranes, people can watch this dramatic scene unfold. Skilled guides accompany all visitors to answer questions.

Other activities include:
Crane 101
March 7 to April 8 - 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. daily
Want to learn more about sandhill cranes? Then Crane 101 is for you and your family. This fun, casual program is designed to answer many of your crane related questions. The program begins with an indoor presentation and, if time and weather permits, concludes with a walk to one of our viewing blinds. So bring your questions, your coat and walking shoes and be ready to have some fun learning about cranes! The cost of the program is $3.00 per person.

Family Crane Carnival
March 28 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. March 29 - 10:00 to 4:00 p.m.
This is a great way to learn about sandhill cranes with your family. Highlighted activities include: Crane Jep-Birdie; Bird Bingo; Crane Dancing Lessons; walk and talk with Candi Crane; have lunch at the Crane Café, Face Painting, Crane Photo Wall, and many more fun, educational activities. This event is free to the public, but donations are appreciated.

Crane Watchers' Breakfast
March 28 – 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.
From 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., the Gibbon Chamber of Commerce will host its Fifth Annual Crane Watchers' Breakfast. The gourmet breakfast will be held at the American Legion located at 1029 Court Street in Gibbon. Everyone is invited. The Breakfast is free but donations are accepted.

Sandhill Crane Art Contest entries sponsored by the Gibbon Chamber of Commerce Sandhill Crane Art Contest will be on display and greeting cards made from the winning exhibits will be for sale.

Weekend Lunches at Rowe Sanctuary
Saturdays and Sundays March 7 – March 29
The Gibbon American Legion Club will be offering lunches on the weekends at Rowe Sanctuary. The menu includes mouthwatering BBQ, tasty vegetable soup, and homemade desserts. Proceeds from the lunches go to help the Legion and Rowe Sanctuary.

Reservations must be made to view the Sandhill Crane migration at Rowe Sanctuary. Tel. 308-468-5282 or register online at www.rowesanctuary.org.

For more information about the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration, visit http://www.audubon.org/states/ne/.

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Crane Fact Sheet

Cranes are among the oldest living birds on the planet. Fossil records place cranes in Nebraska more than nine million years ago, long before there was a Platte River, which by comparison, is a youthful 10,000 years of age. Sandhill Cranes have adapted well to the change in landscapes over time and their populations are healthy and continue to rise. 

Here are some quick facts about Sandhill Cranes. 

Height: 3 to 4 feet
Weight: 6 to 12 pounds
Wingspan: 6 to 7 feet
Lifespan: 20 to 40 years

Diet: Cranes are omnivorous and their diet varies depending on the season and where they are. The cranes that visit the Platte River Valley feed primarily on grain left in corn fields, which makes up 90% of their diet while here. The other 10% comes from plant and animal foods found in wet meadows adjacent to the river. Seeds, fleshy tubers of plants, grubs, earth worms, snails, amphibians, small reptiles and rodents are all fair game. 

Color: Adult is gray with a red crown (bald patch of skin); juvenile is browner overall and has a feathered crown

Subspecies: There are at least five subspecies of Sandhill Cranes, possibly six depending on who you ask. Migratory subspecies include the lesser, greater, and according to some, the Canadian Sandhill Crane. Non-migratory subspecies are the Florida, Mississippi and Cuban Sandhill Crane.

Flight speed & distance: 25 - 35 mph; cranes typically travel 200 - 300 miles in a day, but can reach 500 miles with a good tail wind. When southerly winds start to blow in late March and early April along the Platte, you will see cranes testing these winds for flight conditions. Cranes ride thermals so efficiently that they have been seen flying over Mt. Everest (~28,000 feet).

Nesting: For migratory populations, nesting begins early April to late May. Nests are usually low mounds of vegetation located in wetlands, but are occasionally located in uplands. The female typically lays two eggs, with incubation lasting 29 - 32 days.

Sandhill Cranes and the Platte River
Sandhill Cranes have been found as far north as Alaska and Eastern Siberia. In order to reach these destinations, cranes must build up enough energy to complete their long journey, and to begin breeding. Cranes mate for life, but single cranes dance and display for a mate along the Platte River, the perfect spot to rest; nearby farmlands and wet meadows offer an abundance of food. Without the energy gained along the Platte, cranes might arrive at their breeding grounds in a weakened condition -- where food may be limited until the spring growing season begins. 

The Platte River region has a variety of habitats that support cranes. The most important is the Platte River itself. The river is very shallow and sandbars dot the channels. It is here the cranes rest at night, gaining protection from predators like coyotes. They stand in 3-6 inches of water all night long. These birds can not roost in trees because of the configuration of their toes. In the morning, cranes shuffle up and down the river waiting for the sun to pop up over the horizon. As the sun rises, cranes head out to feed and loaf in the surrounding fields. During the day, cranes do their display "dance" to relieve the stress of migration and strengthen pair bonds. Cranes are very social birds and in the evening, congregate in wet meadows before heading back to the river for the night.
Adaptations
A crane's bill is very sharp and sturdy, useful when probing frozen soil. The edges are serrated to grasp slippery food. Not only is it used for preening, it is also used as a weapon.
When a crane is threatened, it will use its wings to maintain its balance and then jump up and strike at the attacker with its feet.
Cranes can stay warm while standing in near-freezing water by constricting blood vessels in their feet. Arteries and vessels in their legs are right next to each other so the colder blood is warmed before it reaches the body.

Backgrounder: See this 2005 Audubon magazine report on the migration

See video sample clip of the migration

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The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

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