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World Class Natural Wonders
Annual Spring Migration of the Sandhill Cranes – eighty percent of the world’s population of Sandhill Cranes (nearly 600,000) return to the Platte River valley near Grand Island, which is part of North America’s Central Flyway, for about six weeks every year. In fact, this is the only place where all sub-species of Sandhill Cranes gather and co-mingle. The very rare and endangered whooping crane also traverses this route. The central Platte River is one of the whooping crane’s principal stopover sites on its 2,400-mile migration. The area is renowned by birding enthusiasts and hosts the largest gathering of crane species in the world. For more information on crane viewing opportunities visit www.visitgrandisland.com.
More than 300 species of resident and migratory birds have been documented in the area. Included are wild turkey, the introduced pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and the greater prairie chicken, hawks, owls, curlews, the bald eagle, cranes, sandpipers, doves, woodpeckers, sparrows, crows, the blue jay, and swallows. Those that are found near the marshes and lakes are ducks, pelicans, herons, geese, swans, the American avocet, and black tern. The state bird, the meadowlark, is found here along with many song birds that include vireos, robins, warblers, grosbeaks, bluebirds, black birds, thrushes and many others.
Two national wildlife refuges near the Byway are dedicated to protecting and preserving the Sandhills wildlife with particular interest in migratory water fowl - Valentine National Wildlife Refuge and Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. At these refuges the nesting water and marsh birds include American bittern, blackcrowned night heron, upland sandpiper, long-billed curlew, American avocet, Wilson's phalarope, grebes (eared, Western, Clark's and pied-billed), American coot, black and Forster's terns, Canada goose and nearly a dozen species of ducks. There are also burrowing and short-eared owls, Bell's and warbling vireos, and red-winged and yellowheaded blackbirds.