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Letter: Amazing birds, unclear future

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North America’s greatest wildlife spectacle is taking place at this moment. It is described in a 14-page article in the March issue of the Smithsonian Magazine.

Some 400,000 to 600,000 sandhill cranes are congregated along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska where they roost at night on sand flats in the river’s shallow waters. During the day, they feed on wasted grain lying in the harvested corn and grain fields, gaining weight and energy for their journey to nesting grounds in northern Canada from east to west and across Alaska. Some even fly into Siberia.

In the fall, they all (including their young) migrate back to Nebraska to again feed in the grain field and roost at night on the Platte. They stay until the cold drives them further south.

It is not just the cranes but some 20 million other migrating birds that fly to Nebraska, including 280 remaining whooping cranes, 90 percent of the Canada white-breasted geese, many thousands of endangered piping plovers, 30 percent of northern pintail ducks, 50 percent of mallards, some two million snow geese plus many other waterfowl.

Last year, 70,000 tourists came to Nebraska to see these migrating birds. Especially the dancing cranes. It is said they look as if they are dancing to rock music. It seldom happens but sometimes an older female gets turned on by the dance of a younger male and she flies away with him, leaving her old mate dancing alone. Is he dancing to attract another mate? Or is he dancing because he is glad to be single and through with raising a new family year after year? Good question.

Incidentally, from the diagrams I’ve seen on TV, the Keystone Pipeline scheduled to be built across Nebraska will cross somewhere along the 80-mile stretch of the Platte River where the birds congregate.

This should never happen but it will if we continue to stand by and allow the oil companies to do whatever they please.

Warren Crackel

Willmar

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