For five weeks each spring, visitors to the Platte River valley in south-central Nebraska can enjoy the symphony of sounds and dancing rituals of 90 percent of the world's sandhill cranes. Approximately 500,000 sandhill cranes stop to gain energy from the fertile lands along the Platte River. From mid-February to mid-April the cranes can be seen and heard for 30 miles along the Platte River.
In addition to cranes, visitors will see 7-10 million ducks and geese that use the Platte and the neighboring Rainwater Basin wetlands. More than 2 million snow geese stopped in south-central Nebraska last spring alone. The arrival of these waterfowl is celebrated at the Spring Wing Ding in Clay Center. The excitement of the crane season is further enhanced by events like the Wings Over the Platte celebration in Grand Island and the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration in Kearney. Both offer visitors a variety of tours with experienced birders and informational workshops.
The National Audubon Society's Rowe Sanctuary also offers tours throughout the season to give visitors a closer look at cranes and waterfowl. Other viewing opportunities include driving the Auto Tour route of the Rainwater Basin and gravel roads to view feeding cranes. To experience the gathering of thousands of cranes in one spot, try the public viewing areas like the Fort Kearny Hike-Bike Trail or the NRD viewing platform at the Gibbon and Alda exits.
Cranes and waterfowl are the largest portion of the birds which can be found along the river; and they share this resource with a variety of other birds. Visitors to this area from January through March are amazed at the number of bald eagles that visit the Platte River and Rainwater Basin. To get a closer look at eagles, a viewing station is available at the J- 2 water return near Lexington.
The excitement extends beyond cranes. During April and May, wildlife watchers see shorebirds arriving by the thousands from wintering grounds in Central and South America. It's no wonder visitors come back.