2016: Sandhill Crane Migration


Each issue of Konza features a special bundle of writing and images on a topic particular to the prairie bioregion. Our first bundle in on Sandhill Crane Migration.

Meet the Sandhill Crane

The sandhill crane is a graceful bird even if its call sounds like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. Because of the bird’s long tracheas, they have a low-pitched, gurgle with other-worldly harmonics when they cry in unison. Inspired dancers when courting, this bird is ancient, said to be 2.5 million years old, one of the oldest birds on the planet. Living to be an average of 20 years old, the crane has a 5 to 6 foot wingspan and only weighs 6.5 to 14 pounds. Able to fly 400-500 miles each day at an altitude of up to 7,000 feet, approximately 500,000 cranes migrate from the northern reaches of this continent down to the southern United States, spending ample time along the way at one of their favorite rivers, the Platte in southern Nebraska.  They also fly with one of their sister cranes, the endangered Whooping Crane. The mass of cranes migrating each year seems more numerous than the stars, and there’s nothing like standing near the Platte river at sunrise or sunset to watch and listen the thousands of falling and rising stars.

In mid-March of this year, KAW Council brought together a diverse group to see the cranes in migration, dancing in the fields, and gathering at the Platte. Our group included people from Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita in Kansas; Lincoln, NE; Columbia and Kansas City, MO; and even Plainfield, VT. We spent a weekend spying the cranes on extremely cold mornings and evenings, and devoting the middle of each day to visiting the Rowe Nature Center on the banks of the Platte, and sites and a marvelous art museum in Kearney, where we also found the best tamales in the world. Here are some poems, videos and photographs from our journey to crane migration. ~ Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Thanksgiving 09 (8) copyHere is a lovely haiku by Daniel Bentley:

On the braided Platte,

craning our necks for a view,

their flock circles ours.

Julie Flora

“Sandhill Cranes” by Julie Michael Flora celebrates the beauty of this migratory bird. She writes,



winged configurations

trilling the words

only knowable to themselves…

Read more of Sandhill Cranes

vf-at-chancery“Liftoff of the Sandhill Cranes” by Victoria Foth Sherry celebrates the movement of the sandhill crane. She writes,

Rise before night and day converge,

before the glint of the horizon

claims the inky channels of the Platte

from amorphous earth…

Read more here of Liftoff of the Sandhill Cranes

Here’s a video of the sandhill cranes coming in to roost for the night on the Platte River. Thanks to Kris Hermanson for sharing this.

We happily share these photos with you from our journey (photos by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Julie Flora, Dan Bentley, and Kris Hermanson). Click on photos to see full image and caption. Please visit back when we’ll be sharing some video of the cranes too.

Sandhill Crane resources: