Posted Sunday morning, April 2, 2017.
Photo by Nick Ut, Associated Press, via the New York Times: “Sandhill cranes on March 20 in the Platte River in Grand Island, Neb. The peak roosting period this year was March 8 through March 16.”
“The experience — maybe even 60 to 70 percent of it is the sounds,” said Bill Taddicken, director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska. “It sounds a lot like a football stadium when your favorite team scores a touchdown.”
Mr. Taddicken says you cannot see the birds, which migrate thousands of feet above the earth, until they descend.
“These tiny little specks of pepper in the sky will emerge, and then they’ll drop down, become cranes, and they’re here,” he said.
In a single day, the number of birds in the valley can increase by 50,000 or 100,000, crowding the skies like monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz,” Mr. Taddicken said.
Lively scene, and probably a beautiful one. But all is not well along the Platte:
But this Oz is real — and critical — for the nearly 80 percent of the world’s sandhill crane population that arrives here.
The river, agricultural fields and wet meadows provide all the protection and nutrients they need to become fit and stock up on energy for nesting. During their brief stay, they can pack on around 20 percent of their body weight. Some also perform elaborate courtship dances, forming pair bonds that may last for life…
But over the years, dams have transformed the habitat the cranes once occupied. A majority of the birds now squeeze into just 20 or so miles of prime habitat along the river between Kearney and Grand Island, Neb., but around four times that much was all prime years ago.
“The spectacle we see of all of these birds packed into one area is really an indication of a river in peril,” Mr. Taddicken said.
Follow the link to migrate over to Joanna Klien’s column, Headed North, Sandhill Cranes Squeeze In Where They Can, at the New York Times. There’s video and sound.