Stand next to the Platte River near the sunset in the early spring, witness one of the most unusual scenes of nature. Everywhere, the air is filled with soft cunning Sandhill Crane. In all directions, thousands of gardens return to the shelter for the security of the river. The bird, after the bird, spreads magnificent wings and gracefully falls to the ground. The competition became even more dramatic when it was framed by a flaming seal of prairie.
There was a long time ago the Platte River, the cranes returned to this place. The oldest known fossil, it is undeniable that Sandhill Crane is over two million years old. The Platte River, which dates back to only ten thousand years, is a geological young man. Fossil ancestral ancestor, found in central Nebraska, dates back to nine to ten million years ago, making Sandhill Crane one of the oldest bird species on earth.
When the cranes began to visit what is now Central Nebraska, prehistoric camels, rhinoceroses and elephants wandered in a landscape similar to the east African savannah. Crane survived the extinction of these animals, at a time dominated by humans. This, the largest of all transitions, has occurred in less than two centuries.
Of the six sub-categories of Sandhill Crane, three are migratory. All migration subspecies are represented in Nebraska every spring. The most frequent migrant crane is Manja Sandhill. Although not a small bird, the lower Sandhill Crane is the smallest of the group. An adult male can stand about four feet and stretch over twelve pounds. The poles are similar, and men are slightly larger. Adult bird is primarily gray, with a scarlet forehead and white cheeks. The lower sides of the junior cranes are reddish brown. The legs of the cranes are long and dark, and unlike smaller birds, their legs stand behind them in flight. When in flight, the cranes keep their necks straight ahead. Their long necks, supporting legs and a six-foot wingspan make an impressive sight. Cranes are powerful flyers, who can stay in the air for hours. Like the vultures and carnivores, Crane's wide range of wings makes them specialists in driving thermal roofs. The cranes drive the spiral upward up to a height of two thousand feet or more. They climb to the north, losing their height, until they reach the next heat, and then repeat the process. This highly effective method allows migrating birds to travel up to five hundred miles in one jump.
Cranes carry winters in Texas, Louisiana, Mexico and New Mexico. At the end of February they start their great journey to the north. Most migration cranes in North America travel centrally. Cranes begin to arrive along Platte only one to two days after leaving their winter chambers. Along the Platte, the number of cranes is peak at the end of March. The Platte River in central Nebraska is an ideal place to rest during their migration. Wide, shallow Platte provides security. Thousands of hectares of agricultural fields provide food. Cranes remain by the river, feed and rest until the second week in April, when mass exodus occurs. An average bird on average spends twenty-nine days in Nebraska. During this interruption, they will pack up to two pounds of fat.
Of the three migratory subspecies, the beam of the wider Sandhill nest in the western Minnesota, and the Interlake region north of Winnipeg Manitoba. Canadian subspecies nest throughout central Canada from Hadson Bay to the Rocky Mountains. Even eighty thousand smaller sandwiches go to eastern Siberia, while the rest nests in Alaska and Canadian high art. Body fats, acquired during their separation from the Platte River, allow these miraculous journeys to be possible. The period of the Platte River vacation is one of several times when the species benefited from a human decline. It is estimated that cranes consume even six thousand tons of grain that they missed during the autumn harvest. This grain would otherwise be lost, or it appeared as unwanted volunteer vegetation in the spring. This is a rare situation for agriculture and wildlife. Before corn and other crops appeared, cranes were fed with starch tubers produced by various aquatic plants. One such kind of plant was a nuts that once was rich in widespread wetlands that border the Platte before European settlement.
The cranes nest on the ground, building a nest by scratching the available vegetation in the mounds. Usually two eggs are laid, but because the cranes do not fly to the age of about ten weeks, it's rare that both chickens survive. Nests and their eggs are susceptible to the predation of cleaners, raccoons and predators. Adult cranes lure cocks, coyotes, eagles, wolves, bobcats, and even large owls. The chickens stay with their parents until the next spring. If the observer pays attention, three groups of birds are easily recognizable. It is known that the gardens live twenty-five years in the wild. Perhaps, due to their longevity, cranes do not achieve sexual maturity up to the age of three to five years.
Observing the ritual of mating Sandhill Crane is one of the most beautiful aspects of their Nebraska. The "Sandhill Crane Dance" includes an elaborate display of gifts, running and jumping high in the air with outward wings. Cranes will occasionally pick up rods or other available items, throw them multiple times. When mating, couples explain duets, embarking on complex behavior known as 'unison call'. It is thought that these behaviors help in establishing and strengthening coupling. Although cranes usually connect to life, birds that have lost their partners will mate again.
Although Sandhill Crane is not endangered as a species, non-migratory southern subspecies are becoming more and more rare. The non-migratory population has far less control over its nesting habitats, leaving itself more susceptible to predation and human behavior. Good conservation practices helped Great Sandhill Crane recover from just a few thousand birds seventy years ago, to date around a hundred thousand.
We cordially invite you to visit me, highplainsphotosandframes.com, where you can see many photos from the crane that are placed there. About six weeks after this writing, the cranes will return to Platte again. Nikon and I will be there, waiting to greet them. A day on the Platte River, taking pictures of the hoists, is a really good day.