Tall, gray-bodied, crimson-capped sandhill cranes breed in open wetlands, fields and prairies across North America. During the breeding season, they preen rusty-orange, iron-rich mud into their breast and back feathers. ©John T. Andrews

Each spring, more than 500,000 sandhill cranes come together on a narrow stretch of the Platte River in central Nebraska, as they have for thousands of years. On their way from their wintering grounds in Mexico, Oklahoma or Texas to their breeding grounds in the North, they spend three or four weeks on the Platte, resting, feeding and adding as much as 20 percent of their total body weight. From here, they’ll continue their flights to Alaska, Canada or Siberia. For some, it’s a 5,000-mile journey.

In honor of the upcoming centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty, watch an eight-minute video from The Crane Trust, found below. The arrival of the cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River is one of the greatest wildlife phenomena in North America.

Sandhill cranes most often eat plants and grains, but they will also dine on invertebrates or even small amphibians, mammals and reptiles. ©John T. Andrews

The video points out that this small piece of river has everything the birds need to sustain their migration: shallow waters for roosting and safety at night, wet meadows for feeding during the day and an adjacent, tallgrass prairie for foraging. Annually, this key habitat is a stopover for 10 million migrating birds, which includes not only sandhills but also hooded mergansers, snow geese and whooping cranes. The region is so vital it has been designated an Important Bird Area of global significance.

The Crane Trust works to protect this precious ecosystem, which is today threatened by dams, water diversions and drought. Ten million migrating birds is reason enough for such environmental efforts. But if you want more, listen to Charles Cooper, president and CEO of The Crane Trust, talking in the video about the sandhill crane migration. As he says, “it’s part of our history,” too.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,