Posted by: atowhee | March 1, 2023


It’s just beginning–the crane congress along Nebraska’s Platte River. Most of the world’s Sandhill Cranes and some of their whooping cousins stop in central Nebraska on their northward migration, as they have for eons. Now that we no longer have millions of Passenger Pigeons or wandering bison, this is the most dense, intense, expansive wildlife performance left on our continent. The Nebraska weather is usually horrible and the food is crap, but this should be high on every craniac’s bucket list. Bonus: Willa Cather’s birthplace is not far from crane sector of the Platte.

Here is Smithsonian’s description of the annual gathering. Click here.

University of Nebraska professor, the late Paul Johnsgard, wrote some fine crane books. Click here for his wikipedia page. Click here to download Johnsgard’s essay, Crane Music.

Johnsgard figures in a fine one-hour doc on the cranes in Nebraska. You can click here and watch without paying a penny to Apple or Netflix!

Spring in Nebraska: “Then the Sandhill Cranes return and the coming of spring is no longer in doubt.  Their voices rise from afar like the bugles of a distant regiment.  It is difficult to pick out the rattling garooo-a-a-a of an individual bird, for the great mass lives and moves and calls as if it were single organism composed of a hundred thousand working parts, awesome and seemingly unstoppable as it approaches…it is the collective voice of the flock that lingers in one’s memory.  There is something wild and untouchable in it, something primeval that reaches back through the millennia to a spring when the cranes inhabit the earth unencumbered by humans.”  Paul Johnsgard in The Wonder of Birds

Click here for the live camera at Rowe Sanctuary, one of the places where the crows gather every evening.

Much has been written about cranes. They figure prominently in folklore and tradition in many cultures. Their size, their voice, their elegance make them significant wherever they appear. Some few out of many crane words I have appreciated:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”   Aldo Leopold in “Marshland Elegy” in SAND COUNTY ALMANAC.

Cranes’ bugling “the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution”  –Leopold

“Our appreciation of cranes grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history.  His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene.  The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills.  When we hear his call we hear no mere bird.  We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.  He is the symbol of our untamable past, of the incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”  –Leopold

For sixty million years, the call of the sandhill crane has echoed across the world’s wetlands and waterways, and it’s been heard in North America for at least 9 million years.  Sandhill cranes, the oldest living bird species, have seen the violent birthing of entire mountain ranges, and then watched these same experience slow death at the hands of wind and rain… Long before man first took feeble steps on two legs, or raised a rock in anger, sandhills were already ancient.”  Jim Miller in Valley of the Cranes


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