It's spring, and that means the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of some of the “Top Migrations” in Nebraska.
"Nebraska's migrations — like those of the sandhill cranes and waterfowl — always humble me when I witness them each spring. Their ancientness and great force of life put me back in my place as just another resident of this Earth whose own history and accomplishments don't seem as grand as what these animals achieve," said Mace Hack, state director. "And they keep coming back each year, which gives me hope."
The Top Five Must-See Migrations for Nebraska
1. Sandhill Cranes
It is estimated that of all 15 crane species in the world, sandhill cranes are the most numerous and wide-ranging. Yet, around 90% of them stop by a 100-mile stretch of Nebraska's Platte River during their spring migration. In March and April more than half a million birds spend time in the area for the long journey north to their breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. No other spot in the world enjoys such a huge concentration of migrating cranes.
2. Whooping Cranes
Among the sea of gray sandhill cranes, the rare and lucky observer may see a spot of white — a whooping crane. The Nature Conservancy was fortunate to have more than a half a dozen whooper sightings on our land in 2010 — impressive when you consider that they are pretty unpredictable in their stopover locations, and that there are only around 250 adults in the sole surviving wild population.
3. Monarch Butterflies
Monarch butterflies arrive in Nebraska in late April and May but are best seen in the fall. Nebraska has the fifth highest butterfly species diversity among all states, largely because it serves as a migration crossroads. There are plenty to see at the 56,000 acre Niobrara Valley Preserve, which is home to 70 different species of butterflies, including the Iowa skipper, regal fritillary, and Otoe skipper.
4. Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Shorebirds
South Central Nebraska's Rainwater Basin was named a Landscape of Hemispheric Importance for shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. In the spring and fall millions of migratory birds pass through to feed and rest. This includes all of the world's Buff-breasted Sandpipers, who stop by the Rainwater Basin on their journeys from the southern tip of South America to the northernmost parts of Canada and Alaska.
February and March bring the spectacle of millions of Snow Geese. Hundreds of thousands of Mallards, Northern Pintails, Greater White-fronted Geese and other waterfowl are not far behind. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, this seasonal congregation of waterfowl in Nebraska includes up to 90% of the mid-continental population of Greater White-fronted geese. On average, a total of 9.8 million waterfowl move through the Rainwater Basin during spring migration.