Discover The Sandhill Crane Capital Of The World

Types of Crane birds - Sandhill Crane

Written by Telea Dodge

Published: November 24, 2023

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Discover The Sandhill Crane Capital Of The World

Have you heard the expression, “Everywhere is somewhere to someone”?

This is actually incredibly true. Many places that one person would look over are places where others would thrive. Several states in the United States of America often get passed over when seeking vacation destinations. When we think of Ohio, we don’t imagine the beautiful landscapes of Hocking Hills.

When we think of Illinois, we don’t picture the Cahokia Mounds. What about Nebraska? What do you think of when you think of Nebraska?

Today, we’ll be exploring one specific city in Nebraska, and learning about a feature that makes it one of a kind. Kearney, Nebraska (pronounced KAR-nee) is home to the sandhill crane capital of the world.

Let’s learn more!

Sandhill Crane Capital of the World

MARCH 7, 2017 - Grand Island, Nebraska -PLATTE RIVER, Migratory Sandhill Cranes fly over cornfield as part of their spring migration from Texas and Mexico, north to Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.

The city of Kearney is known as the sandhill crane capital of the world because they are visited by more than half a million of these large birds during their yearly migration.

©Joseph Sohm/

Kearney, Nebraska is the sandhill crane capital of the world. This is because every year, more than half a million sandhill cranes visit the Platte River Valley on their way to Canada and Alaska. These birds are seen particularly in Kearney, which rests in the middle of this river valley. This sandhill crane migration is greatly celebrated, and there is even a crane festival held in honor of these amazing birds. Let’s look at Kearney on a map to get a better idea of its location.

Where Is Kearney on a Map?

Kearney Archway

The Kearney Archway is a definitive landmark for the city when crossing Nebraska from east to west.

©Creative Commons – Original / License

Kearney sits along the famous Platte River in southern central Nebraska. We’ll look at its map location and then check out how far it is from other major cities in Nebraska.

As you can see, Kearney is a city that rests along the I-80 corridor, which extends across the entire state. Let’s look at its proximity to three other Nebraska cities using a helpful table. Keep in mind that our travel times are estimates sourced from Google Maps at the time of writing this article. Actual travel times vary based on weather, traffic, construction, and road closures.

CityDistance From KearneyEstimated Travel Time
North Platte99.7 miles1 hour and 33 minutes
Lincoln130 miles1 hour and 58 minutes
Omaha185 miles2 hours and 40 minutes

Now that we know more about the location of the sandhill crane capital of the world, let’s refresh our memory about these incredible birds.

Sandhill Cranes

A lone Sandhill Crane near the Platte River in Nebraska during spring migration.

These beautiful birds have been around for millions of years.

©Benjamin Tillotson/

Sandhill cranes are large and ancient birds that inhabit Central America, Eurasia, and North America. They are particularly famous in North America, both for their distinctive appearance and for their distinctive call. We’ve included a YouTube video of this call uploaded by Malcolm Smith so that you can hear the sound – whether or not you’re already familiar with it.

These birds grow to 3-4 feet in height and spend most of their time in isolated wetlands. They reach an average weight of 7-11 pounds and have lifespans of around 20 years. These omnivores are flock animals, which means they travel and live in groups. Adult sandhill cranes are slate gray in color, with some rusty colorations atop the gray. Their heads are adorned with a crown of red skin.

When to See Sandhill Cranes in Kearney

According to The Nature Conservancy, sandhill cranes begin their northern migration in early spring. Their northern migration takes them to several states, but the site estimates that 80 percent of all sandhill cranes in North America end up in the same place during the spring season. This is a 75-mile stretch of the Platte River, centered on Kearney. They arrive in late February and stay until April. The Platt River is a perfect place for them to prepare themselves for the rest of their northern migration. That means that the best time to see sandhill cranes in Kearney is during this period. The Nebraska Game Parks website says that the number of sandhill cranes in the area peaks around the third week of March.

We’ve included a wonderful informational video by Visit Kearney Nebraska that shows you some parts of the crane migration and tells you more about why they’ve chosen this area.

The Kearney website has an annual Crane Watch Guide that will help you find the right times and places to see the cranes as they stop in the area for their migration. When you visit, make sure to remember to keep a safe distance from these birds and don’t feed or disturb them.

Fun Facts About Sandhill Cranes

sandhill cranes courting in tall grasses

Sandhill cranes mate for life.


Let’s finish up with some interesting information about sandhill cranes. We’ve composed a list of neat facts about these amazing birds. Learning more about animals often gives us a greater sense of wonder and appreciation for them.

  • Sandhill cranes feed opportunistically. This means that their diet shifts to accommodate food availability. They prefer plants and grains, but will also eat amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, and some small mammals.
  • There are three subpopulations of sandhill cranes that do not migrate. Two of these subspecies – the Mississippi sandhill crane and the Cuban sandhill crane – are federally listed as an endangered species.
  • Sandhill cranes mate for life, but after a crane’s mate passes, it will seek a new life partner.
  • Sandhill cranes dance during their mating season. This dance includes several movements, including bowing, jumping, throwing sticks and plants in the air, and wing-flapping.
  • Sandhill cranes are ancient. Experts estimate that the oldest fossil of one of these birds is about 2.5 million years old. It was found in Florida. A fossil from a closely related bird was found in Nebraska, and this fossil dates back 10 million years.
  • Baby cranes are able to leave the nest as little as eight hours after they hatch.

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About the Author

Telea Dodge is an animal enthusiast and nature fiend with a particular interest in teaching a sense of community and compassion through interactions with the world at large. Carrying a passion for wild foraging, animal behaviorism, traveling, and music, Telea spends their free time practicing their hobbies while exploring with their companion dog, Spectre.

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