Crane Meadows Nature Center


South side of the Alda interchange (exit 305) on Interstate 80

Monday through Friday - 9 to 5
Saturdays - 10 to 4
Spring migration (March 1 to April 7th) - 8am to 6 pm

Visitor Center:
FREE (donations welcomed)
Crane Meadows grounds:
$3.50 (includes tax)

Flying Cranes
Photo by Al Perry

Background Information | Ecological Notes | Crane Lore
Daily Bridge & Blind Tours |
Crane Viewing Opportunities | FAQs


Background Information About Sandhill Cranes

  • Sandhill cranes stand between three and four feet tall, weigh five to eight pounds, and have a wing span of six feet.
  • During their "staging" period on the Platte River, the crane increase their body weight by as much as 25%. This prepares them for the long flight ahead, reproduction, and possible food shortages upon their arrival at the nesting sites due to frozen ground.
  • Both sexes of adult cranes look alike. The reddish-brown color that some exhibit is the result of preening with beaks covered with iron-rich mud that stain their feathers.
  • Cranes mate for life and often pair when they are three to six years old. Cranes do not compete for the same mate and sometimes have a lengthy courtship. Cranes eyes do not meet during courtship.
  • A young sandhill crane is called a colt. It grows at a rate of approximately an inch a day, reaching full size in nine weeks. They are orange-brown in color for most of their first year, lack a red crown, and make a whistling call.
  • Sandhill cranes can live to the age of 25 years in the wild and longer in captivity. One crane at the Washington Zoo lived to be 55 years old!
  • Cranes utilize an elongated windpipe to produce "Crane Music." Their harmonious "bugling" and "trumpeting" sounds are actually distinctive calls to communicate with each other.
  • Cranes have much better hearing and sight capabilities than humans.

Ecological Notes

  • There are 15 species of crane currently found around the world, and an additional 36 extinct species recorded by fossil remains.
  • North America has only two native species of crane, the sandhill and the federally endangered whooping crane.
  • Sandhill cranes have been hunted in the U.S. since 1960, and are hunted in nine central flyway states: Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Nebraska does not allow hunting of sandhill cranes. An estimated 20,000 cranes are harvested each year by hunters in these states.
  • The population of sandhill cranes in the early 1960's was estimated at 200,000 to 340,000. Currently the population is estimated at 600,000.
  • At peak, half a million cranes are packed into a 60 mile stretch along the Platte River known as the "Big Bend" region.
  • The Platte River Basin is the only ecosystem along the crane migration route that meets all of their requirements for roosting, resting, and restoring themselves.
  • 80% of the total sandhill crane population uses the Platte and North Platte Rivers during both fall and spring migration.
  • The future of the sandhill crane depends on the preservation of their habitat along the Platte River Valley.

Crane Lore

  • Cranes are the oldest living bird species and have the longest successful tenure on earth, about sixty million years. They are truly "emissaries from a distant age."
  • Sandhill cranes probably get their name from the sandhills of Florida where they were first described by John James Audubon.
  • Sandhill crane nick-names include "preacher bird" and "shypoke."
  • Cranes are considered the most accomplished dancers in the animal kingdom.

Daily Bridge and Blind Tours

Crane Observation Season:
March3 - April 7, 2007 coinciding with the dates of highest Sandhill Crane concentrations on the Platte.

From one hour before till one hour after sunset.
This is when the cranes are leaving and returning to their roosts.

Age Restrictions:
Blind tours - Children must be at least 12 years old.
Bridge tours - Children must be at least 12 years old.

Reservations: We take phone reservations with a credit card number (Visa and Mastercard).

A fee of $25.00/person plus tax is charged for each blind tour.
A fee of $10.00/person plus tax is charged for the bridge watch.


Crane viewing "Blind Tours" will be offered March 3rd through April 7th at a fee of $25 per person (plus tax). Our staff presents an introductory program about cranes throughout the day.

Morning: 5:00a.m. CST (March 3-10)
6:00a.m. CDT (March 11- April 7)
Evening: 5:00p.m. CST (March 3-10)
6:00p.m. CDT (March 11-April 7)
*Note-Daylight savings time is earlier this year, so please pay special attention to dates and times.

Call to reserve your spot on this popular crane viewing tour.

An exclusive, guided crane viewing opportunity using the private Nature Center pedestrian bridge will be offered at sunset from March 3rd through April 7th. This tour features the sights and sounds of the cranes as they return to a secondary roost along the river. The number of participants is limited to provide minimal disturbance to the cranes while maintaining a premier viewing experience. A fee of $10.00/person (plus tax) will be charged, reservations are encouraged.

A variety of programs about cranes will be presented for the public at the Nature Center during crane season. Check with the Center for topics and times, or click on "Calendar of Events."

Wildlife displays, including a variety of exhibits on cranes, can be viewed at Crane Meadows Visitor Center. Informative videos about cranes and Platte River wildlife are shown continually during crane season. Staff are on hand to answer crane questions and direct people to local crane viewing hot spots.

Don't miss our 2,500 square foot Nebraska products store. New this 

  • Snacks and food - from cinnamon pickles to pickled asparagus,
    bison jerky, prime rib, and Village Piemaker pies.
  • Optics - Bushnell and Leupold
  • Books -  featuring bird and nature field guides - and all things Nebraskan (poetry, history, and fiction)
  • Jewelry
  • Nebraska art, photos and prints
  • Furniture and wood products
  • Backyard bird supplies
  • And all things "crane" (socks, sculptures, photos, jewelry, cards and more).

Featuring artwork from area artists.


  1. Our crane tours last 3-4 hours, they require patience and extreme quiet. You must be able to walk approximately 200 yards. We suggest wearing your warmest clothes.

  2. Stop at the Nature Center for maps of self guided tours.

  3. Aerial sightseeing flights in a Cessna 172. Book an hour-long flight (3 seats). Call for pricing.

  4. As the sun sets, cranes float down from the sky like moths, and land in the river in front of the blind. While there are no guarantees, our locations have been excellent for viewing. The cranes come very close to the blind. This tour can last up to 4 hours. Chemical restrooms located at each blind.

  5. Our bridge tours require an easy 1/3 mile walk (paved) to our pedestrian bridge over the middle channel of the Platte. This tour is wheel-chair accessible. The guide sets-up a spotting scope on the bridge. Participants are out on an open air bridge. It can be cold - so please dress warmly (socks, gloves and hats). Cranes may fly overhead as they descend on their roosts on the river. Sometimes they land in the prairie to the south before they move to the river. They may be close, or as far away as a half mile away. There are benches on the bridge. Tour participants can leave on their own at any time.

  6. You may observe other wildlife on the tours, such as coyotes, deer, and other birds including bald eagles, hawks, owls, waterfowl and woodpeckers.

  7. Which motels and restaurants do you recommend?
    There are a number of motels in Grand Island, Hastings and Wood River. We recommend that you go to the local visitor bureau websites and take a look..." and "