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Each spring, more than 80 percent of the world’s population of sandhill cranes converge on Nebraska’s Platte River Valley. Along with them come millions of migrating ducks and geese in the neighboring Rainwater Basin—covering the vast expanse of open sky with millions of flapping wings and a chorus of calls.
As they have for centuries, hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes come to the Platte River Valley each spring to rest and restore themselves. During their stop in Nebraska, cranes gain nearly 20 percent of their body weight. Depending on the weather, the cranes begin to appear in late February or early March—with the last few birds leaving in early to mid-April.
The shallow braided channels of Nebraska’s Platte River provide safe nighttime roost sites. Waste grain in crop fields provides food to build up depleted fat reserves needed for migration. Adjacent wet meadows provide critical nutrients and secluded loafing areas for rest, bathing and courting.
This graph shows the number of sandhill cranes that typically can be found around the Platte River between Grand Island and Lexington, Nebraska. A family of cranes usually stays for about three weeks. Researchers estimate that 600,000 to 800,000 sandhill cranes utilize this part of the Platte every spring.