As the Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival celebrates 44 years in the Platte River valley this weekend, the Sandhill cranes will have commemorated a few more – at least 2.5 million more, that is.
Fossil evidence suggests the Sandhill crane may be the oldest living bird species on the planet. On their ancient migratory pathway from wintering in southern U.S. and Mexico to their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska, they converge along a small swath of braided channels on the Platte River each spring. This central stopover is a stunning spectacle, attracting more than 500,000 birds – and 15,000 visitors – annually to Nebraska.
Iain Nicholson Audubon Center and Rowe Sanctuary, a 1150 acre refuge and education center near Kearney, has worked to provide and protect critical habitat for migratory birds along the Platte River for 40 years through partnerships, public education and events such as the Nebraska Crane Festival.
Special events and speakers are scheduled throughout the festival weekend, including internationally acclaimed author, Brian “Fox” Ellis, Chief Scientist of the National Audubon Society, Gary Langham, and NEBRASKAland Magazine Regional Editor, Eric Fowler. The event also features special presentations and guided field trips to crane blinds and bird migration locations in central and southern Nebraska.
Formerly known as the Rivers and Wildlife Celebration, though the name has changed, the festival remains a tribute to the thousands of migratory birds – and people – who gather in central Nebraska each year to honor the return of the Sandhill cranes and ensure their passage continues through modern times, with hope there will be at least a few million years more.