Normally this time of year people from all over the country are flocking to Nebraska’s central Platte River valley to take in one the most remarkable wildlife spectacles in North America and the largest gatherings of cranes in the world.
But the brutal winter has greatly impacted this year's sandhill crane migration. Greg Wagner with Nebraska Game and Parks says only about 20,000 birds have arrived between Grand Island and Kearney. Normally, there are about 200,000 of them in Nebraska by this time.
The central Platte River is important to sandhill cranes and other migratory birds because it serves as a key stopover site where birds rest and store energy to continue their northward migration and subsequently breed.
"Many of the sandhill cranes are way beyond the snow line down south," Wagner says. "They're waiting for the snow to clear and the south to southwest winds to blow to get them here and we believe it will be a quick migration."
With their food mostly covered with ice and snow, Wagner says any chance to see larger numbers of cranes will take awhile. Cranes feed in cornfields and wet meadows by day and roost in the shallow flowing waters of the Platte River at night.
"If we do get good numbers of birds at a certain point it's probably going to be late March or early April," Wagner says.