Nebraska Academy of Sciences


Date of this Version



Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences- Volume VI, 1978. Copyright © 1978 Sharpe


A most unusual avian migratory event takes place each spring in the Platte River basin of Nebraska between 98 and 102 degrees longitude (Fig. 1). In suitable habitats throughout this area large concentrations of Sandhill Cranes, Grus canadensis, and White-fronted Geese, Anser albifrons, develop and achieve peak populations in mid to late March. This phenomenon is traditional to the migratory habits of specific populations and occurs during the spring movement from wintering grounds in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico to breeding grounds far to the north in Canada and Alaska. In both species groups of individuals drift in from wintering grounds and numbers increase until as much as 80 percent of that migratory population is concentrated within the basin. Whereas several weeks are required to develop peak numbers, the second lag of the journey northward is a mass movement, taking several days, leaving but a few stragglers behind (Buller and Boeker, 1965; Buller, 1967; Norm Dey, Nebraska Game and Parks, personal communication).

Such a migratory "staging" event is a rare phenomenon. That this staging area is not on a direct route from the wintering grounds to breeding areas is equally interesting. Furthermore, that portion of the Platte River utilized for migratory staging is similar in geomorphology, vegetation, and hydrology to the non-utilized portions of the river upstream and downstream. Finally, this staging phenomenon has occurred throughout recorded history, and there is no reason to believe that this tradition has not occurred for centuries prior to settlement. In this chapter the author speculates on the origins of the migratory staging habit for Sandhills Cranes and White-fronted Geese in the Platte River basin.

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