Bird Watching in Kearney

Imagine hundreds of thousands of pairs of wings beating the chilly air with the sounds of squawking, cooing and bugling


It seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it happens every year in early spring when the sandhill cranes drop from the sky to settle on the frozen Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska, the self-proclaimed "sandhill crane capital of the world." Pack your binoculars for a memorable bird-watching journey through Kearney.


Unrivaled Natural Display

It's the annual rite of spring in Kearney. Over half-a-million sandhill cranes swoop down to the Platte River valley for a little R&R on their long migration north to their breeding grounds in Canada. They rest on the river sandbanks and eat up corn left over in the fields. If this is on your family's bucket list, you know that the return of the cranes is one of the greatest natural phenomena in the modern world.


Kearney, Nebraska

Kearney is a small, pleasant town named after nearby Fort Kearny. Now in ruins, the fort was built during the early days of westward expansion to protect Overland Trail travelers. Curiously, town postal workers misspelled the name, and the new spelling—with an extra "e"—took on a life of its own. Kearney's greatest claim to fame is the fact that over 80 percent of the planet's sandhill cranes visit the Platt River's sandbars each spring.


Watching the Cranes Put Down

What does it sound like when a million crane wings are beating together? An ocean perhaps, or a hurricane. You'll find out if you catch crane fever and adventure into central Nebraska for the big migration event. To see the landing itself, head for the Lillian Annette Rowe Bird Sanctuary or the Crane Meadows Nature Center, both on the Platt River near Kearney. Sign up early for the Audubon Society's daily crane tours at the Rowe Sanctuary.


Crane-Watching in Town

The sandhill cranes hang around the Kearney area for six weeks, so even if you don't get to see their landing, you have a good chance of viewing these magnificent birds in March and April. One place to try is the Hike/Bike Trail Bridge at Fort Kearny State Recreational Area. This former railroad bridge spans the Platt River and provides a terrific crane-watching spot. If you're lucky, you may see the stunning dance the cranes engage in to attract mates.

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