The month of March is one of those months where you have a hard time deciding what to do outside. The ground is frozen and mud is everywhere. The conditions don’t warrant tracks on the Ranger, but tires are not up to the task either. If your wood duck boxes are cleaned out you might just sit on the deck wishing you could get past this three-week period where Mother Nature seems to have grounded you.
There is a way to break out of this early spring quagmire with a trip to North Platte, Nebraska. During the month of March, North Platte will be home to the largest migration of sandhill cranes in North America.
Reports vary, but anywhere from 200,000-300,000 cranes stop there to rest up for a few weeks before they finish their migration to Canada, Alaska and even Siberia.
The greatest number will gather at the confluence of the North and South Platte rivers. Total population estimates of more than 600,000 birds will pass through the state this month.
Cranes are a very neat bird. They are shaped like a stork with long necks and even longer legs. They have a long super-sharp bill.
While they are resting and feeding, they will start to pair off for future breeding a few months from now. Sandhills mate for life but will seek a new mate if one of the pair dies.
They are most known for their vocalizations. I have a hard time describing their call. It is mesmerizing to say the very least.
Cranes have two chicks that take a month to incubate, and independence is achieved at only two months of age. They become mature and start breeding when they are 2 years of age.
You should to go to YouTube and search for the sandhill crane mating dance. These gangly birds jump and bounce in some pretty odd-looking configurations.
The dance is so unique that thousands of tourists will head to North Platte this month just to see it. You can hire a guide that will get you up close for as little as $35 per person per day.
Cranes were in big trouble years ago due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting. Their populations have rebounded and today are steady. But the interesting part is that they are expanding back into what was once their normal range. So, places that had cranes and lost them are starting to see them return.
Minnesota opened a crane season about 10 years ago and there was a blip of initial interest. That interest has dropped off significantly since the opportunity was first made available.
They are called the rib-eye of the sky. As the term would indicate, they must taste great. I have never eaten a crane, but I am not opposed to it.
When the season opened in Minnesota it was only for a very small part of the state. I don’t have the map in my head. I just remember it was a long way from southwest Minnesota.
For all practical purposes, if you want to hunt them you will need to drive quite a distance. Many other states have hunting seasons for cranes, but Nebraska (where the bulk of the migration passes through) is one state that does not allow crane hunting. I assume that this might be for the fact that the wildlife economy of crane watching is much bigger than any license revenue they might receive from hunting license fees.
Harvesting a resource does not hurt that resource as long as it is managed with the well-being of the species as its primary objective.
Hunting pressure can change the way the birds move and act. It’s only a guess, but that might be another reason for no season in Nebraska.
I have seen cranes in Nobles County but only in pairs or other small groups. These were migrating birds and they had no intention of staying in the county for long. They are unlike anything else that lives here, so when you see one, they certainly stick out.
Make plans for a road trip to Nebraska this month. I might just bump into you there.