2015 Migration Overview

A regional biologist told some interested birdwatchers that the cold weather could delay peak Crane Migration until early April. After some investigation of Sandhill Crane data by the Crane Trust’s Lead Biologist, Andy Caven, it does appear that our numbers are a bit low comparing to recent years for this same time period, but the variability in these numbers from year to year is extremely high. The Crane Trust’s official (river) count for March 3, 2015 was 14,200 Sandhill Cranes in one population on three adjacent sandbars surrounded by the river channel, with an additional 1,100 detected off-channel out in the field. This accounts for a total of 15,300 spotted. These were all located on the segment of land between the bridges of HWY 281 and Alda Rd.

blind2The numbers for 2014 demonstrate a steady increase in crane numbers as spring eased into presence:
March 6th, 2014: 20,000
March 10th, 2014: 24,300

The numbers for 2013 demonstrate a radical jump in Sandhill Crane numbers for the comparable two weeks of flights:
February 28th, 2013: 26,700
March 7th 2013: 73,000
On the Platte River between Chapman and Overton, NE (90 miles of river), including 23 separate roosts larger than 100 birds.

In conclusion, what we saw was not only an increase in numbers, but the large roosts breaking into more evenly distributed smaller ones. We still have a pretty consolidated roost at the moment. Drastic changes like those highlighted by the 2013 migration often come from ideal conditions, such as a north wind and warming weather.

Tracking MapWe are currently monitoring four GPS tagged Lesser Sandhill Cranes with our partners at Texas Tech. The migration does not always follow the “standard normal distribution,” a statistics term commonly referred to as the “bell curve.” Many phenomena do fall into this pattern: starting slow, reaching a peak, and declining, forming an evenly constructed figurative “bell.” However, the right weather could bring an enormous amount of cranes at once causing a late migration increasing slowly, reaching a peak in late March or early April, or we could have a huge increase in numbers at some point followed by a slow tapering off.

Andy said, “I think we will see a break in the cool weather by March 5th which could have an abundance of Sandhills reaching us in a half week to a week. Thus, we could expect a great increase by mid-March if the weather cooperates.”

Latest Sandhill Crane Estimated Numbers:
March 2, 2015: 14,200
March 9, 2015: 62,202
March 16, 2015: 113,000
March 23, 2015: 142,000
March 30, 2015: 203,000
April 6, 2015: Due to poor weather conditions, aerial counts were not conducted.
April 13, 2015: 475 (Final Count)


  • Nancey Blackburn says:

    What is the time period we could see the Sandhills cranes?n we live in Illinois.

    Thank you

  • Thanks for this post. There is no date associated with this post, however, so it is hard to tell when these counts and predictions were made. Can you give a current update on crane numbers and projection, but with a date attached?

    • Crane Trust says:

      This post was made on March 3, 2015. As of March 9, 2015, the Crane Trust counted 62,202 Sandhill Cranes: 15,000 feeding in fields off-river, several different roosts ranging from 350 to over 20,000 birds.

      • Bruce Eichhorst says:

        Are the crane counts that precise that you can report a figure to the nearest single digit (62,202). Readers might be interested in learning the details of the methodology used for these counts. For example, is the ocular method used alone, or do you photo-correct the ocular estimates like the USFWS does when they conduct their mid-continent crane count each March? Their count estimates are reported to the nearest hundred digit.

        • Crane Trust says:

          The methodology used for these counts is ocular estimates with photo count subsamples. More exact counts from photo subsamples (usually 15-25% of the total roosts) are used to revise the estimate up or down. Ocular and photo counts (estimates) were less than 10% off from each other for the most recent survey (8.3% more estimated via photo to be exact). Thank you for your question.

  • Cindy says:

    Coming out from Louisiana this weekend…anybody recommend any hotspots w viewing capability? We’ll be staying in Red Cloud. Thank you! Can’t wait!

    • Karen Krull Robart says:

      Evening viewings have been great at the public viewing platform just south of Interstate 80 at Exit 305 (Alda); large numbers of cranes have been roosting there for well over a week. By the time you arrive they should also be in good numbers at the public viewing platforms south of the Gibbon Exit (#285) and at the Fort Kearney Hike/Bike Trail bridge (Exit 279, south to L50A, then west). For daytime viewing while the cranes are feeding in the fields, you can stop at either the Crane Trust’s Nature & Visitor Center (south of I80 at Exit 305) or at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary (Gibbon Exit then south to Elm Island Road, then west approx. 1 mile) for driving maps of the county roads.

  • Jeremy roberts says:

    Thanks for all the info. Is there somewhere where we can source frequent updates on crane numbers? I’ve had no luck sleuthing out such a source.



  • Rosanne says:

    When is the best time to come and take photos of the cranes? Where to stay?

    Thank you.

  • Rick says:

    Have you got the #’s from the count yesterday?

  • Phoebe says:

    We’re very excited about our visit next week, and have a question we hope you can answer:

    Your 3/23/15 estimated number of cranes present is 142,000 cranes.

    We keep seeing news articles saying around 500,000 cranes migrate through the Platte Valley.

    We’re wondering why there are presently so many fewer than we’ve read should be there?

    Thank you for your attention to this.

    • Crane Trust says:

      The estimated 500,000 cranes don’t all come through at the same time. The largest group the Crane Trust has estimated in the area at one time was 300,000 and that was about two years ago. This year they came in three big waves. The migration is a revolving door and this current wave is most likely the largest group we’ll see this season.

      • Phoebe says:

        Oh I see now; of course, that makes sense.

        We’re delighted with the thought of so many beautiful cranes on their migration!

        Thank you very much for replying so quickly.

  • Don Graf says:

    When do you expect the numbers to peak and how fast do you expect them to drop?

  • Sylvia says:

    Have biologists stopped their counts for the season? Your last answer indicated the Sandhills reached their peak so numbers would start to decline. But I’m curious if they leave the area as quickly as they arrived?

    • Crane Trust says:

      The biologist were unable to do their aerial counts this week due to weather but hope to do one next week.

      • Sylvia says:

        Great, Thank You! I was there and completely amazed for the sandhill’s “peak” week. I’m hooked… so look forward to learning more about their behavior as they move through their migration.

  • Sylvia says:

    Thank you for posting the final counts for this season. Wow! I can’t believe how quickly the Sandhills left… in 2 weeks from a high of 203,000 to 475!!! Is such a sudden mass exodus usually how their yearly migration ends?

    • Crane Trust says:

      It is unusual for that many birds to leave at one time, but it is equally unusual for that many birds to be here in mid April. The weather stretched the migration longer than usual but at some point the drive to mate and build their nests will take over and make them move north. The late arrival in the spring to the roost on the Platte does not mean the nesting of the birds will be delayed only that they will have less time to raise their young and still make the fall migration back to the feeding grounds in Texas and beyond.

  • Linda Ogren says:

    Thanks much for providing these updates. Are we to understand from the latest count — less than 500 birds — that the migration is over? Is it typical for the migration population to go from peak to zero in less than 2 weeks? I guess I was hoping that you actually meant there were 475,000 birds estimated.

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