The sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) are back in Big Valley – one of the first signs of spring.

Why are they called Sandhill cranes?

In north central Nebraska there is a large area of sand dunes stabilized by grass. It sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer and is characterize by thousands of temporary and permanent ponds and lakes and is braided by rivers. It is located along the Central Flyway (bird migration route).

Sandhill cranes nest mostly in Canada from western Quebec to British Columbia with smaller numbers breeding in the Rockies, Great Basin (where we live) and the Cascades as well as in the Southeast. In winter most sandhill cranes migrate to the western Gulf Coast through Texas, Southern New Mexico and Arizona into Chihuahua and Durango in Mexico. Northbound sandhill cranes converge like the waist of an hourglass on the Central Plains before fanning out again in Canada and Alaska. Along the way they stop at traditional staging grounds to rest and feed, building fat reserves that will tide them over the second part of their migration and the first weeks on the still-frozen tundra. From February to early April one of the world’s largest assemblies of migrating sandhill cranes gathers. The hundreds of thousands to millions of birds converging on the Nebraska sandhills staging grounds give the cranes their common name.

This sandhill crane was photographed near the Pilot Butte Parking Area in Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc Co CA).

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