Sandhill Crane Information
Each March and early April, 20,000 or more greater sandhill cranes gather to rest and refuel along a 15-mile stretch of the North Platte River between Oshkosh and Lake McConaughy before continuing north to nest. While not quite on the scale of the aggregation of half-million lesser Sandhill Cranes along the Platte in central Nebraska (touted by *Roger Tory Peterson) as one of the "ten most spectacular wildlife events in North America", the gathering of cranes near Lewellen is awe-inspiring and not to be missed. Many visitors are moved to tears by the sight and sound of thousands of trumpeting cranes descending to their island roosts at dusk and blackening the horizon at fiery dawn.
According to **Dr. Paul Johnsgard, Garden County and Lake McConaughy make up the third best birding area in the United States with widely diverse eco-regions including the sandhills with many lakes, the North Platte River valley, wetlands at the head of Lake McConaughy and the lake itself.
*Roger Tory Peterson (Aug.1908 - July 1996) An American ornithologist, author, conservationist, and wildlife artist whose field books on birds, beginning with A Field Guide to the Birds (1934; 4th ed. 1980). These guides did much to stimulate public interest in bird watching and study of birds.
**Paul Austin Johnsgard (28 June 1931 – 28 May 2021) was an ornithologist, artist and emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska.
Sandhill Cranes nest in marshes, bogs, wet meadows, prairies, burned-over aspen stands, and other moist habitats, preferring those with standing water. Breeders gravitate toward the edges between wetland and upland habitats, while non-breeders may prefer open, grassy sites. Sandhill Cranes winter in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico, roosting on shallow lakes or rivers at night and spending the day in irrigated croplands, pastures, grasslands, or wetlands.
They usually nest in small, isolated wetlands—such as marshes, bogs, and swales—or within about 300 yards of the edges of larger ones. They prefer areas with vegetation growing in standing water, but some nest on dry ground. It’s not known whether males or females choose the nest site. If one member of a pair dies, the surviving member may reuse its previous nesting area with a new mate.
Sandhill Cranes build their nests from the dominant vegetation—such as cattails, sedges, burr reeds, bulrushes, or grasses—using dried plant materials early in the season and adding green materials later on. To a foundation of larger materials they add a cup-shaped hollow lined with smaller stems or twigs. Both mates may gather material, tossing it over their shoulders to form a mound. The female is usually the one to stand on the mound and arrange the material. Nests may be 30-40 inches across and 4-6 inches high; those built over water are larger than those built on dry land.