Cranes are returning to Nebraska as they go south for the winter.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wants the public to report sightings of the endangered Whooping Crane.
Joel Jorgensen, Nongame Bird Program manager, says there are only about 300 birds that may pass through.
“They were probably always a fairly rare bird, but unregulated hunting was a major cause of their decline,” Jorgensen tells Nebraska Radio Network. “There was at one point fewer than 20 whooping cranes left in the world, so it’s taken decades for them to recover and they’re still recovering.”
They differ in size and appearance from the more common Sandhill Crane.
“They actually stand about five feet tall. They’re white with black wingtips and they’re red and black on the front portion of their face,” Jorgensen says. “So, they do stand out quite a bit because of the bright white plumage.”
The birds will travel through central Nebraska, stopping along the Platte River, but also various wetlands in the Sandhills and Rainwater Basin areas.
Report any sightings to Game and Parks (402-471-0641), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (308-379-5562), or The Crane Trust’s Whooper Watch hotline (1-888-399-2824). Emails to Jorgensen may be submitted too.
“We like to track their migration through the state, because the critical stopover locations that they use can inform conservation efforts,” Jorgensen explains. “We’ve had mild weather so far this year and those birds are just staying up north until they have a reason to come south. Everybody in Nebraska knows, we’re in the time of year when a cold front could just be around the corner and those birds could move through the state very quickly.”