LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Hundreds of migrating sandhill cranes have begun trickling into south-central Nebraska's Platte River Valley on their way to nesting areas in the Arctic.
By mid- to late March, hundreds of thousands will be feeding in farm fields between Grand Island and Kearney during the day and resting in shallow waters of the Platte each night for several weeks. The cranes are making their way north from Texas, Oklahoma or Mexico.
"We're looking at hundreds and not thousands at this point," said Bill Taddicken, director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, told the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/WO275R ). "We will continue to build numbers from now on."
Despite the continuing drought, there's plenty of water for the cranes, said Kevin Poague, an organizer of the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration. Warm weather and dry conditions may attract more birders or eco-tourists, but it won't affect the birds, whose migration dates back millions of years.
"They've been through this before," said Poague. "Actually, they can probably handle whatever weather conditions you can throw at them. They've been doing it for a long time."
The cranes' Nebraska stopover has been compared to that of the migration of wildebeest in Africa and the march of the penguins in Antarctica.
Each spring, between 20,000 and 25,000 people visit Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon or the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Alda to see the migration, said Brad Mellema, executive director of the Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The direct area economic impact of the crane season is between $4 million and $10 million, Mellema said, citing studies done by the University of Nebraska.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com