Kearney, Nebraska, is known as the sandhill crane capital of the world. While the month of March is the height of the crane viewing season, if you stop here anytime between about Valentine’s Day and tax-day, you are likely to see some of our feathered springtime visitors. In mid-March 2020, for example, it was estimated that over 500,000 sandhill cranes were in the area. They’re hard to miss.
This year, the guided crane viewing area at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, about a 20-minute drive southeast of the Archway in Gibbon, Nebraska, is taking extra precautions to help everyone stay safe when they come out for their guided crane viewing adventure. Their guided crane viewing tours are sold out for this season, but their trails are open. For details about the Center and crane viewing, click here: https://rowe.audubon.org/
If you don’t mind going it on your own, there are also several outdoor areas where you can crane watch while social distancing and staying safe.
Audubon has a roadside site for daytime crane viewing about 2.5 miles west of Rowe Sanctuary on Elm Island Road in Gibbon, Nebraska.
The Central Platte Natural Resource District has established a roadside site for daytime crane viewing about 2 miles west of Rowe Sanctuary also on Elm Island Road in Gibbon.
About 2 miles south of I-80 Exit 285 on Lowell Road, you’ll find the Central Nebraska Natural Resource District’s Plautz viewing platform which offers morning and evening viewing and free parking.
To view cranes near the river at sunrise and sunset, check out the Fort Kearney State Recreation Area’s Hike/Bike Bridge over the Platte. The recreation area is about 20 minutes southeast of the Archway. The bridge is ¼ mile east of the Fort Kearny State Historical Park and Visitor Center and about a 300-yard walk from the parking area. A State Park Permit is required. For information about Fort Kearny State Historical Park and Recreation Area, click here: http://outdoornebraska.gov/fortkearny/
The visitor center at the Crane Trust, down the road in Wood River, Nebraska, is closed and their in-person tours have been suspended in order to help keep everyone safe during the pandemic. But, behind the visitor center, 10 miles of nature trails along the Platte River are open. From the trail, you’ll see cranes, a variety of birds, and other wildlife. You may also catch a glimpse of their small herd of American bison. To learn more about the Crane Trust, click here: https://cranetrust.org/
Along with the sandhill cranes, who stop in Central Nebraska to rest and feed on waste corn during their long journey from their southern wintering grounds to their breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, you’re liable to see eagles, ducks, geese, and an occasional whooping crane.
Remember, most of the land along the Platte River is private property. Please respect landowners and do not trespass. Be prepared for cold temperatures, especially, if you plan to view the cranes early in the morning or in the evening. Wear warm coats, hats, gloves, and warm shoes or boots. Along with warm clothing, be sure to bring your camera and binoculars.
Sunrise and sunset are prime viewing times on the river where the birds roost for the night. During the day, the cranes are scattered in the fields enjoying a feast of the corn that’s been left behind. Stay safe and enjoy one of the world’s great natural wonders, the sandhill crane migration in Central Nebraska.
For a complete crane viewing guide and a map of viewing locations, click here: https://visitkearney.org/sandhill-cranes/