I’m watching Sandhill Cranes land and roost in the Platte River outside of Kearney, Nebraska. As I write this I am in my family room, I have open the cranetrust.org website on my iPad and it’s sunset over the Platte, with cooing birds gliding onto the shallow waters. There are hundreds of thousands of birds on screen. The beauty of this annual migration is overwhelming. As the sun sets over the river, the Cranes huddle together as if their ultimate position on the water is pre-ordained. The birds are large, with long grey legs and red atop their beaks. They stand 3 or 4 feet high. They call to each other and seem excited to be together.
This is an annual migration. The birds winter in the south, Mexico and other lands in the south of North America. In 2016, while sitting outside a polling place in November in central coastal Florida, I saw four of the cranes walking in a parking lot. At the time, I had no idea what these weird-looking tall birds were. It wasn’t until I first witnessed the migration 2019 in Nebraska that I realized I had spied them before in Florida. The cranes are currently traveling north, to northern Canada and Siberia where they summer to breed. They mate for life. Their annual travel is the great North American migration on this side of the world. In Africa, the wildebeest travel the expanse of Southern Africa for that continent’s great migration. In North America, it’s the Sandhill Cranes.
It’s getting dark now on the Platte and the birds almost reach from the north bank to the south of the great wide and shallow river. Cooped up at home, with the human globe obsessed by COVID19, I wish I could be viewing these birds from the banks of the Platte as planned, instead of over a website. The birds and the natural world surrounding them is almost overwhelming. And every year these great birds fly across the continent in this ritual while humans fret about a pandemic and the dearth of effective leadership overseeing humankind. Oh, what life these cranes lead. It’s almost dark in Nebraska now. The cranes will soon be silent, as they rest on the river before awakening at dawn to comb the corn fields for fallen kernels. They fatten up here in Nebraska, before they resume their northern trek to breed. Oh, what an inspiring spectacle watching these magnificent birds. Maybe next year, post coronavirus, I will see them again, in live form and not on an iPad screen. One can only hope. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/sandhill-crane. Crane Trust