Jane McKeon

Spring Wingding

One of the oldest known bird species, Sandhill Cranes stand 3-4 feet tall. Only the adults are adorned with red crowns and white cheeks.

Gray is a hue I usually associate with the dead of winter, not the advent of spring. By this time of year, I ‘m done with frozen monotones and yearn for a thawing dose of bright colors — the yellow in forsythia blooms, the red in a robin’s breast, the green in early narcissus shoots – that seem to shout, “No doubt about it, spring is here!” But my bias against gray became, well, less black-and-white during a recent a road trip on I-80 in Nebraska, where I witnessed thousands of silver-winged Sandhill Cranes. Their display was anything but drab.

Every March, more than a half-million Sandhill Cranes gather for several weeks in the Central Platte River Valley. Right there, in the heart of Nebraska, they have their crane convention. They dine on the previous year’s leftover field corn and entertain each other with peculiar courtship dances that show off their long, elegant necks and 6-foot wingspans. It’s no wonder birdwatchers flock here to watch the annual migration. Even from a distance, these birds are magnificent.

Before long, nature will cue the cranes to continue northward on their incredible journey, which began as far south as Mexico and will end in their summer nesting grounds in Canada and Alaska. Chances are good that our paths will cross again. Sandhill Cranes have a lifespan of up to 20 years. Their longterm survival, though, depends on conservation of their wetland habitats.

I now see gray in a new way. Silver wings, it turns out, are like silver linings — they signal that brighter days are on the horizon.

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