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Why You Need to Visit Kearney, NE to See the Sandhill Cranes

by Skylar Glandon March 11, 2023

Sandhill Crane Migration in Kearney, NE

Kearney, Nebraska is home to one of the world's most spectacular natural wonders, the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Every year, from late February to early April, more than half a million Sandhill Cranes descend upon the Platte River Valley, which runs through Kearney, on their way north to their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. This migration draws birdwatchers and nature lovers from around the world to visit Kearney, NE. Witnessing this incredible natural phenomenon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed.

First, let's learn a bit more about the Sandhill Cranes themselves. These magnificent birds are one of the oldest living bird species, with fossil records dating back more than 2.5 million years. They stand up to four feet tall and have a wingspan of six to seven feet, making them one of the largest birds in North America. They are also known for their distinctive red forehead and long, graceful necks.

The Sandhill Crane's annual migration is one of the most impressive wildlife displays in the world. Every year, they make their way from wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to their breeding grounds in Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. Kearney sits at a crucial stopping point along their route, where the cranes rest and refuel before continuing their journey. In fact, more than 80 percent of the world's Sandhill Crane population passes through Kearney during their migration. These birds spend several weeks in the area, often eating leftover corn from the previous season’s harvest. This helps them regain lost energy from the long journey north.

Here are just a few reasons why you should visit Kearney, NE to see the Sandhill Cranes:

1. Witness a Natural Wonder

The Sandhill Crane migration is a natural wonder that is truly awe-inspiring to witness. In past years, estimated numbers have reached more than 600,000 birds around Kearney and the surrounding area. These large, graceful birds flock to the Platte River Valley in staggering numbers, creating a sight and sound like no other. Imagine seeing thousands of these large birds lift off in flight all at once. The sound of their calls and the sight of them soaring overhead is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Sandhill Crane Close-up

Sandhill Crane Up-Close. Image courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.

2. See the Sandhill Cranes Up Close

Visitors to Kearney, NE have the unique opportunity to see the Sandhill Cranes up close and personal. A few blinds and observation towers are set up along the Platte River, allowing visitors to get a closer look at these magnificent birds as they feed, dance, and interact with one another. Some of the blinds even have scopes and binoculars available to observe the cranes from a distance.

3. Learn About the Cranes

The Rowe Sanctuary, about a twenty-minute drive from Kearney, NE offers a variety of educational programs and events designed to teach visitors about the Sandhill Cranes and their migration. From guided tours to lectures and workshops, visitors can learn about the cranes' biology, behavior, and habitat. The sanctuary also offers opportunities for visitors to participate in citizen science projects, such as bird banding and data collection, to help researchers better understand the cranes and their migration patterns. Learn more about Rowe Sanctuary here.

Sandhill Cranes at Rowe Sanctuary

Sandhill Cranes at Rowe Sanctuary. Image courtesy of Nebraska Tourism

4. Explore the Outdoors in Kearney, NE

In addition to the Sandhill Crane migration, the Platte River Valley is home to a variety of other natural wonders and recreational opportunities. Visitors can explore the river and its surrounding wetlands, which are home to a variety of other bird species, including bald eagles, pelicans, geese, and ducks. On a clear night, visitors will want to take in one of Nebraska's beautiful sunsets followed by a starry night sky free of light pollution.

For those who love the outdoors, there are several parks in the area that offer hiking, camping, fishing, and other activities. Fort Kearny State Recreation Area is a beautiful park that has plenty of activities such as trails, lakes, and camping. It features a paved trail that crosses the Platte River, which happens to be a wonderful place to view the Sandhill Cranes in the evening. As the sun sets, the birds will fly towards the Platte River where they sleep at night for protection. You can see massive clouds of birds flying at dusk or early in the morning from the Fort Kearny bridge.

Sandhill Crane Viewing in Kearney, NE

Sandhill Crane Viewing in Kearney, NE. Image courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.

5. Enjoy Kearney's Other Attractions

Kearney, NE is home to a variety of other attractions that make it a great destination for visitors. The city boasts several museums, including the Museum of Nebraska Art and Pioneer Village in nearby Minden, NE. This museum has more than 50,000 historical artifacts, such as vintage cars, farm equipment, and even early airplanes. Pioneer Village is a true gem for any traveler in the area. Read more about Pioneer Village Museum here.

Kearney also offers a vibrant dining and shopping scene, with a downtown area full of stores and restaurants.

Finally, no visit to Kearney, NE would be complete without a visit to the Stagecoach. You will find a wide variety of products, including Nebraska souvenirs, unique gifts, and Native American jewelry. Without a doubt, Stagecoach is one of the most unique stores in Kearney, if not Nebraska as a whole. There is no other store quite like this one! Be sure to visit Stagecoach for the largest selection of Sandhill Crane souvenirs in Kearney!

Stagecoach Gift Shop in Kearney NE

Stagecoach Gift Shop in Kearney NE

In conclusion, Kearney, NE is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in witnessing one of the world's greatest natural wonders, the Sandhill Crane migration. With opportunities to see the cranes up close, learn about their biology and behavior, and explore the Platte River Valley, Kearney offers a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages and interests.

Skylar Glandon
Skylar Glandon


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