LINCOLN, Nebraska — Sandhill cranes have started trickling into central Nebraska for a respite from their annual migration to arctic nesting areas.
Experts say the birds usually begin arriving around Valentine's Day, so they're on schedule.
"We just really had a handful show up two days before Feb. 14," Bill Taddicken, director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, told the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/1jQyUqK ).
"These birds are pretty used to extreme weather," Taddicken said. "Their biological clock runs on a different time that we don't know."
The vanguard will be followed by thousands that will rest and feed before resuming their journeys from wintering spots in the southwestern U.S. states and northern Mexico. Experts estimate about 600,000 sandhill cranes make the yearly trek, as do millions of geese and ducks.
Adult cranes are about 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of up to 7 feet.
Every year between 20,000 and 25,000 people visit Rowe Sanctuary or the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Alda to see the migration, tourism officials have said. Last year people from all 50 U.S. states and 49 countries visited the sanctuary.
Taddicken said a great crowd is expected this year as the sanctuary celebrates its 40th year protecting the cranes and raising public awareness about them. On March 15 there will be an afternoon open house at the sanctuary, with activities that include special speakers, hayrack tours and birding walks.
The sanctuary's Family Crane Carnival on April 5 will include a scavenger hunt, exhibits, face painting and games.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com