Rowe Sanctuary has been owned and managed by the National Audubon Society since 1974. Located along the Platte River in southcentral Nebraska, the 1,447-acre sanctuary contains 2.5 miles of river channel, wet meadows, and some agricultural fields. Public hiking trails wind through riparian areas and along the banks of the Platte.

The Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe is open Sunday through Friday throughout most the year. Special hours are in effect during crane migration season between mid-February and the first part of April. Trail access is limited during crane migration season. Contact information: 44450 Elm Island Road, Gibbon, NE 68840; 308/468-5282; .

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Ornithological Summary

Every year from mid-February to early April, the Platte River in central Nebraska is the destination for more than 500,000 Sandhill Cranes during their northward migration, roughly 80 percent of the world's population. At the height of the migration in late March, Rowe Sanctuary can host as many as 70,000 cranes nightly. This is one of the highest concentrations of cranes in the world.

From 1971 through 2001, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys recorded 22 whooping cranes on Rowe's property. Most of the sightings are of groups of cranes that stay for several days on their migration.

Rowe's prairie and wet meadow habitats support grassland birds of state concern such as Bobolink, Northern Harrier, and Dickcissel.

Conservation Issues

Sandhill cranes are attracted to the Platte River and its associated habitats for several reasons. The Platte, historically, was a wide, shallow body of flowing water with few trees, providing cranes roosting areas safe from predators. Runoff from snow melt in the Rockies would scour the river, keeping it wide and free of woody growth. Reduced water flows from dams and water diversion projects have allowed trees to encroach, narrowing the river. More trees means cranes are forced into smaller and smaller stretches of the river, further increasing the threat of disease. Staff must use machinery to clear sandbars to inhibit tree growth and to maintain the wide river channels that cranes require.

Wet meadows adjacent to the Platte are rich in invertebrates and other wetland life forms. Cranes feed here, as well as in agricultural fields nearby. The birds need to put on about a pound of weight to successfully complete their migration and breeding season. Wetlands are threatened with conversion to agricultural or residential purposes.


Owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, the original purchase of 782 acres in 1974, which was funded by Lillian Annette Rowe of Trenton, New Jersey, included 2.5 miles of river channel, wet meadows, and some agricultural fields. Additional land acquisitions have increased the current size of the sanctuary to 1,447 acres.


The 1,248 acres of Rowe Sanctuary are made up of river habitat, wet meadows, agricultural fields, and urban structures.

Land Use

The outdoor and experienced-based education at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center (INAC) at Rowe Sanctuary is at the heart of Audubon's mission. Trained staff and volunteers provide special opportunities for everyone to experience the Platte Valley ecosystem and its wildlife. INAC has both indoor and outdoor classrooms, viewing blinds on the Platte River for visitors to witness up-close the sandhill crane migration, and hiking trails that meander along the Platte River, around wetlands, and through wooded areas and prairie remnants.

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