For the last few weeks, the cranes have been gorging themselves on the food sources they find here in the Platte Valley. Sandhill cranes are opportunistic feeders. They will eat plants, leftover grains, tubers, berries, snails, earthworms and the occasional mouse, lizard or snake. They have a long way yet to fly to their nesting sites in Canada, Alaska and Siberia some 1,000 to 5,000 miles away.
The fossil record shows that sandhill cranes have been coming here for millions of years. They have been coming to Nebraska for far longer than the Platte River has been here. How can that be?
If you listen to a lot of what is said and written about the cranes and their relationship to the Platte River, you would think that if the river dried up the cranes would disappear. That’s not quite so. Our landscape here provides lots of wetland and wet meadow that give the cranes the open spaces and food sources they need. This geographical feature has been what drew the cranes here. And incidentally, scientists believe that Sandhill cranes are one of the oldest bird species that still exists.
Quite often you can see cranes dancing. For cranes, this is like dating and attracting a mate. The birds can exhibit extravagant dancing behaviors, including bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing and wing-flapping. While dancing is an important role in courtship, it is performed outside the breeding season by individuals of all ages, and is thought to aid motor development in younger birds and strengthen the pair bond in older birds.