Crane Song

Air Date: 08/17/2012

Every year some 80 percent of the world's Sandhill cranes make their way through a 75-mile stretch of Nebraska's central Platte River Valley, a critical stopover in their 5,000-mile spring migration.

"Crane Song," a vibrant documentary by Nebraska Public Media is a stunning visual essay of the Sandhill crane's migration through Nebraska, weaving together striking images and majestic sounds of the birds' journey with the stories and insights of the individuals who observe these creatures, as well as landowners endeavoring to ensure a habitat that is welcoming to the cranes.

Each spring, between February and April, hundreds of thousands of Sandhill cranes soar into Nebraska on a journey that cranes have taken since the end of the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago. With the surrounding cornfields providing ample food, the Platte River Valley is an ideal habitat for the birds, allowing them to prepare for the final push to their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra. 

But their habitat is at risk. Much of the Platte is no longer the broad shallow river it once was. Decreased water flow has led to the overgrowth of vegetation on the river's sandbars, resulting in fewer spots for the cranes to spend the night safely away from predators.

Featuring spectacular and profound cinematography of the cranes, "Crane Song" introduces some of the people captivated by the birds, from some of the thousands who visit the Platte River Valley each year to observe the birds, to Nebraskan Michael Forsberg, one of the world's premier crane photographers, as well as University of Nebraska-Lincoln paleontologist Mike Voorhies; Shelton, Neb., landowner Tony Hempleman, who has cleared vegetation from his property to improve the crane's habitat; and ornithologist and author Paul Johnsgard, who has studied the birds for more than 40 years.

"You get this, not a cacophony but a symphony really, of all these wonderful sounds and these birds coming in as if they were sort of synchronized to music landing in the water," Johnsgard says during the program.  

Forsberg comments that, "I think sheer spectacle. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen… in the right moment… it’s just incredible… there’s nothing else like it."

The program also visits the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wis., where aviculturist Sara Zimorski explains how Sandhill cranes have been instrumental in saving the highly endangered Whooping crane.    

“Crane Song” was made possible by the Elizabeth Rubendall Foundation, the Theodore G. Baldwin Foundation, Sandhills Publishing, Chief Industries, Inc. and the Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust, Inc.