Encounter with a Crane Celebrity

We had a chance encounter on Sunday at the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center with Paul Johnsgard, one of the world’s foremost crane experts.

Johnsgard, 78, has studied sandhill cranes in Nebraska for nearly 50 years. He’s the author of 43 books, many of which are about cranes and other birds. Here are a few of the points he made during an interview with Muddy Boots News:

  • The estimated 400,000 sandhill cranes that gather on the Platte River each spring are the largest gathering of any species of cranes in the world.
  • Agriculture has helped the sandhill cranes because the waste grain from the corn crop provides an important source of food before they continue their northward migration.
  • In contrast, agriculture has hurt the whooping cranes because it wiped out their habitat and whooping cranes don’t eat corn.
  • The future of the cranes is difficult to predict.  Whooping cranes are particularly vulnerable to disease and extreme weather because their populations are small and concentrated in one area.
  • Global warming lengthens the breeding and fledging season in the Arctic Circle for lesser sandhill cranes by 10-14 days.
  • Whooping cranes winter and travel in extended family groups that can go back four generations.
  • No one knows how the birds remember their migration path.
  • While staying on the Platte, sandhill cranes use thermals to climb high in the sky during the day.  Johnsgard believes the behavior is important for learning area landmarks.

To hear the complete interview with Johnsgard, PaulJohnsgardFull.

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