Audubon in Action

Watch Thousands of Sandhill Cranes Lift Off From the Platte River at Sunrise

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and other waterbirds visit Nebraska in one of the greatest migration spectacles on Earth.

To hear America’s “greatest migration,” you have to beat the sunrise. It starts with a single kar-r-r-roo in the dark, before swelling into a crescendo of 80,000 Sandhill Cranes that fills the Platte River by dawn. It’s an impressive spectacle, says Bill Taddicken, the director of Audubon Nebraska’s Rowe Sanctuary. “This is real. I wish more people would get out and experience it.”

In a new video by Vuz TV, Taddicken narrates this poetic scene of the Sandhills, which use the sanctuary and surrounding river valley as a rest stop during their annual migration. The footage shows large, sweeping views of flocks lifting off from the riverbank after feeding on insects and aquatic plants. But while Sandhill Crane populations are largely stable across North America, they're vulnerable to habitat loss in vital migration spots such as the Platte River. And they're climate threatened, according to Audubon's climate report.

Audubon Nebraska is working to preserve the Platte ecosystem and the heritage of the cranes. It's restoring the river to its historic state by clearing sandbars and soil buildup, and keeping invasive species like phragmites at bay. Moreover, Rowe Sanctuary is preserving the region's prairie habitat—where Sandhills and other birds love to forage—by mimicking natural processes through prescribed burns and grazing techniques. All this work has clearly had a positive impact, as the Cranes return in the tens of thousands every year.

If you can't make it out to Nebraska this season for the migration, you can watch the birds on Rowe Sanctuary's live crane cam. The flocks are typically around until mid-April.

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