Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Melissa. Melissa Wonders, “Where do sandhill cranes migrate” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Melissa!

Today’s Wonder of the Day takes us to the great state of Nebraska. Full of sandhills, prairies, and mesas, the region’s natural landscape is a sight to behold. Nebraska also contains more miles of river than any other state in the U.S.

This large river system includes the Platte River, which stretches from western Nebraska across the state. On the state’s eastern border, it joins the Missouri River. Farther east, it meets the Mississippi

The Platte is a wide, shallow body of water. It’s a source of irrigation for Nebraska farmers. Without it, the state’s corn and soybean crops would need another source of water. The Platte is also important to many species of wildlife, especially birds.

One such species is the sandhill crane. This is a tall bird with a grey body and red feathers at the top of its head. Each spring, the Platte River fills with these elegant animals. About 500,000 sandhill cranes—80 percent of the world population—descend on the region. It’s the largest gathering of these birds in the world. 

Why do sandhill cranes gather at the Platte River? It’s an ideal spot to rest along their migration route. The birds move northward for their mating season, and they stop in the central region of the Platte to refuel. There, they find food and a place to rest without the fear of being hunted themselves.

Sandhill cranes make up a large portion of the birds that flock to the Platte River each spring. But they have plenty of company! In fact, over 300 species of birds can be found there. This includes many types of ducks, geese, and even the endangered whooping crane. 

Would you like to see the birds that make a rest stop along the Platte River? If so, you’re not alone. The gathering draws sizable crowds each year. Luckily, there are many great places for birdwatching along the Platte River. A few are the Rowe Sanctuary, Dusty Trails, Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, and Rainwater Basin Visitor Center. If you can’t make it to Nebraska, virtual tours are available online as well.

Human development has removed much of the water that once flowed in the Platte River. Dams and reservoirs divert it for irrigation and other uses. This has also lowered the number of sandbars along the river. This gives sandhill cranes fewer options for a resting place as they fly over.

Still, the cranes flock to Platte River each spring. Many people are hopeful that the birds will continue to do so for years to come. If you live in Nebraska or ever visit, be sure to check out the region if you have the chance. There’s nowhere better to birdwatch on a spring day!

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.7

Wonder What's Next?

We bet today’s Wonder of the Day caught your eye . . . or your EAR!