News & Events

Events, Blog Posts, News, and Updates

Crane Count Week 4 - 3/5/2024

This week we estimate there are 344,000 ± 55,000 Sandhill Cranes between Chapman and Overton NE along the Platte River. The Whooping Cranes have also returned for the season as we saw 4 Whoopers on the survey. For the first time this year our weekly count is not record-breaking. In 2021, we had 460,000 cranes (March 3rd – March 9th) which still holds the record for week 4 numbers. The average for week 4 since 2002 is 133,000 cranes. 2017 was the only year we have on record where week 4 was peak for the season. Every other year peak was in between week 5 and 8 (March 10th – April 6th). We have been comparing this year to 2016 due to the similar crane and weather patterns between years. Week 4 in 2016 was 239,000 which is more of a plateau than we experienced this week but is still following a similar trend.

This week 16% of cranes were between Chapman to Highway 34, 17% between Highway 34 and Highway 281, 26% between Highway 281 and Alda, 19% between Alda and Wood River, 6% between Wood River and Shelton, 6% between Shelton and Gibbon, 5% between Gibbon and Highway 10, 4% between Highway 10 and Kearney, and 1% between Kearney and Overton. A large majority of the cranes counted west of Shelton were spotted off the river in crop fields or meadows, meaning the cranes in these sections left the river to feed for the day. However, we generally only detect groups within 3.4 km of the river. Cranes off-channel are more spread out and difficult to see so cranes that left the river before being surveyed are likely underrepresented and estimates west of Shelton are an underestimate. We attempt to compensate for this by starting our surveys in Overton rather than Chapman after week 6 when numbers in the west are typically still peaking and numbers in the east are plateauing or declining.

We have some precipitation and northern winds forecasted for the next day or two which will probably slow migration. The temperatures are predicted to stay unseasonably warm into next week with variable winds from day to day. We estimate that our next flight will probably capture peak numbers for the year. However, some years we experience “peak-level” numbers for multiple weeks. It all depends on how long the cranes decide to stay in the pleasant conditions of the CPRV vs. risk moving north into the unknown.

Till next week,