Duck, Duck, Crane! — Nebraska’s Spring Migration

March 27, 2023 NEBRASKAland Magazine


Northern pintail ducks performing courtship flights while resting in Nebraska during their migration to breeding grounds.

Photo by Eric Fowler

By Delanie Bruce, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies & Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Many of us relate March to the beginning of spring, madness over college basketball and hunts for the infamous pot of gold. But there’s another magic that starts this month – the symphonies of birds calling. For instance, you might recognize the high-pitched “howk-howk!” of snow geese flying overhead or the “kar-r-r-r-o-o-o” of prehistoric sandhill cranes preening on a sandbar. Nebraska is a particularly special place to be in March, as the state offers premier stopover sites for ducks, geese, swans and cranes on their migrations north. This month, watch the skies abuzz with activity.

Stopover wetland within the Rainwater Basin in York County. Photo by Jeff Kurrus.

This spring migration phenomenon begins in February and will continue through mid-April. Birds fly hundreds to thousands of miles to reach breeding grounds, where they will raise young and stay for the summer. The long journey will include several stopover points, which can last several days to weeks, and allow migratory birds to rest, refuel and form pair bonds. Located in the narrowest portion of the Central Flyway, Nebraska becomes a birder’s paradise in March. Millions of Canada geese, northern pintails, mallards, sandhill cranes and many other waterfowl species are passing through our great “Flyover” state right now.

Sandhill cranes on the Platte River at Martin’s Reach WMA in Hall County. The area is an important roost for cranes during the spring migration. Photo by Eric Fowler.

Each year, over 3 to 6 million snow geese visit the hundreds of wetlands within the Rainwater Basin; over half a million sandhill cranes stage within the “Crane Capital of the World” along the central Platte River; and thousands of blue-winged teal and northern shovelers seek refuge at hundreds of lakes throughout the Sandhills and the Nebraska panhandle.

Gadwall ducks visiting a Sandhills pond northeast of Gordon. Photo by Justin Haag.

So, no matter where you are located within the state, you can witness this incredible migration at any of the open bodies of water in Nebraska. Not sure where to go? Visit the Nebraska Birding Guide to inspire your next birding adventure.

The post Duck, Duck, Crane! — Nebraska’s Spring Migration appeared first on Nebraskaland Magazine.

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