Best time to travel to Nebraska

Sandhill Crane Migration in Nebraska

Watch a stunning natural phenomenon when over 600,000 sandhill cranes land in Nebraska

Best time: late February–early April | mid-October–mid-November

Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill cranes on the sunrise

Only in Nebraska, you can see one of nature's greatest shows. More than half of all the world's crane population gathers along the central Platte River to rest and get ready for the annual journey to their northern nesting grounds. An 80-mi (128-km) stretch of the Platte River hosts migrating cranes twice a year. The spring migration is generally more impressive to witness, while in the fall, cranes can only be seen briefly since they spend less time on stopovers. Cranes arrive in Nebraska starting from late February, and their peak numbers can be seen throughout March. By early April they head north to Alaska and Canada. Fall migration usually occurs between late October and late November when cranes head to their wintering grounds in Texas, Florida, and Mexico.

To see the largest number of cranes, visit Kearney, Nebraska, which is often called the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World. Grand Island and North Platte are also known to have impressive crane congregations. Bird-watching tours are available at all locations. The best way to experience the migration is to reserve a blind and get close to them on the sunrise. Rowe Sanctuary provides blinds to see cranes up close without disturbing them and take quality photos of the beautiful birds. Kearney also hosts the annual Audubon Nebraska’s Crane Festival to mark the migration season every March. It's a great occasion to learn about cranes, their habits, habitats, and conservation efforts.

One of the most amazing things that you can witness in Nebraska is the so-called crane dance when they bow to each other, flap their wings, and jump to attract the opposite sex. Sandhill cranes pair during their spring migration, and they stay with one partner for life. A peculiar call that sounds like "Karroo" is also associated with the cranes' mating rituals.

Practical info

When is the peak time to watch the sandhill crane migration in Nebraska?

Late February to early April is the right window to witness the cranes' spring migration. They again fly south for wintering between late October and late November. Because cranes spend less time on stopovers during the fall migration, there's less of an opportunity to witness them. Show more

What are some destinations to witness the sandhill crane migration in Nebraska?

The Sandhill Crane Capital of the World, Kearney, is the best-known place to experience Sandhill Crane migration. The birds also stop by Grand Island and North Platte. Kearney hosts the Audubon Nebraska’s Crane Festival in March, which involves numerous educational activities for visitors, such as bird-watching tours and photography workshops. Show more

Which unique behaviors do sandhill cranes exhibit during migration in Nebraska?

Sandhill cranes showcase unique behavior during their migration, such as the crane dance during the mating season. When trying to attract their mate, they perform a series of movements like wing flapping, bowing, and jumping. The sound they produce is also unique. They typically make a swooping 'karroo' sound, different from other bird sounds. They also rest at specific areas like shallow sandbars along the Platte River to revitalize for the journey. Show more

How can I book bird-watching tours to see sandhill cranes during their migration?

Various bird-watching tours operate in North Platte, Kearney, and Grand Island. Some provide exclusive access to sandhill cranes on private lands. You book the tour by checking out the official websites of Rowe Sanctuary and Kearney Visitors Bureau. You can also use popular travel booking apps such as Viator or TripAdvisor to find specialized Nebraska-based tour operators. Show more

Are there annual events to commemorate sandhill crane migration in Nebraska?

The Audubon Nebraska’s Crane Festival is an annual event that occurs in Kearney every March. This event is established to celebrate the sandhill crane migration. Participating in the festival is an opportunity to gain knowledge about these birds. Visitors get to enjoy numerous cultural, educational and interpretive agenda, including bird-watching excursions, environmental conservation lectures, and tasting delicious local cuisines. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen