They come from wintering grounds coast to coast and all fly into the middle of the country around Kearney, Nebraska. This year about 400,000 were counted at the peak. To be honest I never thought I would visit the plains. I am a west coast guy raised backpacking into the Sierra Mountains.
But this event is something worth taking a break from your urban insanity and sit quietly in a field and listen to the sound of a 9 million year tradition.
Get started by stopping by the Crane Trust or the Ian Nicholson Audubon Crane Center at the Rowe Sanctuary.
They are both easily accessed from Interstate 80.
There is no cost to drop by and the volunteers are waiting and ready to help you learn about Cranes. You are welcome to drop a donation in the box if you would like to help support their work. Each operates blinds that allow viewers closer access. There is a small charge and you need to sign up in advance to be sure of getting a spot in the blind. But for me the grandeur of the large groups flying and soaring together is the main attraction.
The Cranes start arriving earlier each year. The peak was in early March but good viewing extends through the end of March. Individual cranes might stay for a month gleaning the fields of insects and left over grains.
At night they fly back in groups to the Platte River for a safe place to sleep. Cranes can't swim so that is why the Platte River is so important. It is known as "being a mile wide and an inch deep".
When they feel ready to move on north they begin to join up with large groups staging to fly on. The groups soar in circles, called "kettling" gaining altitude to find a warm current heading in the right direction. Cranes will return to the same nesting grounds year after year.