Audubon Nebraska's Crane Festival

Sandhill Cranes. Photo: Madeline Poster.

Audubon Nebraska's 50th Crane Festival!

Festival registration is now open! Click here to begin your registration

For instructions on how to register, hover over the “Crane Festival” tab above and click on “How to Register.”

Join us for our 50th Crane Festival on Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21, 2020! On-line registration will begin at 9:00 am CST on Monday, December 9. Registration will include Saturday meals, access to all speakers and a free t-shirt. Student and child discounts available. 

Registration: $150/adult; $60/student (high school and above); $20/child. Prices will increase $10 on March 1, 2020.

Festival registration does not include field trip fees. Trips are purchased separately and are open only to people who register for the festival.

Hotel rooms will fill up fast - reserve yours early! Rooms are not part of festival registration; attendees must make their own lodging arrangements.

All field trips will leave from and return to the west entrance of the Holiday Inn. 

Reserve Your Hotel Room Today!

Festival HQ: Holiday Inn and Convention Center, 110 2nd Avenue Kearney, NE  68848  (308) 237-5971

A block of rooms is being held exclusively for Audubon Nebraska at a discounted group rate of $109.95 per room, per night, plus tax for March 19, 20 & 21, 2020.  (If the Holiday Inn is booked, this rate will also be available at the La Quinta Inn and the Comfort Inn.) This block of rooms is being held until February 18, 2020, and will be subject to availability after that date.

To make your room reservations, call the phone number above and state you are attending the Audubon's Nebraska Crane Festival. 


Friday, March 20

5:15 am-9:30 am - Morning Rowe Sanctuary Crane Viewing

11:00 am-3:00 pm - Crane Trust Field Trip (Note: Trip full, waiting list being taken.)

2:00 pm-7:00 pm - Registration at Festival Booth in the Holiday Inn

3:00 pm (Returning Saturday at 12:00 noon) - Greater Prairie-Chicken Calamus Outfitters Field Trip (Note: Trip full, waiting list being taken.)

4:00 pm (Returning Saturday at 12:00 noon) - Prairie-Chicken Dance Tours Field Trip (Note: Trip full, waiting list being taken.)

5:00 pm-9:00 pm - Evening Rowe Sanctuary Crane Viewing (Note: Trip full, waiting list being taken.)

Saturday, March 21

5:15–9:00 am - Morning Rowe Sanctuary Crane Viewing Field Trip

8:00 am 7:00 pm - Registration at Holiday Inn

8:00 am–5:00 pm - Vendor Displays at Holiday Inn

9:30-10:30 - Group Breakfast

10:30-11:00 - Welcome 

11:00 am - Keynote Speaker

12:30-1:30 pm - Luncheon

Concurrent Sessions


"Crane Behavior Basics" - Pamela Bergmann

This class offers a look into the common behaviors of Sandhill Cranes and how they utilize sound and body language to communicate with one another. Participants will learn to recognize some of the most common behaviors and what they mean.

"Whooping Crane Stopover Stay Length in Relation to Diurnal Habitat and Nocturnal Roost Site" - Andy Caven

Whooping Crane migratory stopovers can vary in length from just hours to over a month. These sites provide caloric resources and safety essential for the completion of migration. Factors such as weather, the demographics of migrating groups, and the physical condition of migrants have been shown to influence migratory movements to varying degrees. But little research has examined the relationship between habitat quality and stay length. Quality sites could entice individuals to stay longer to improve body condition. On the other hand, quality sites may also provide the same forage value with less effort and therefore precipitate shorter stay lengths. We examine this question using habitat data collected from sites used by 58 Whooping Cranes tracked with platform transmitting terminals from the Aransas Wood Buffalo population.


"'Only' Threatened? Update on the Whooping Crane Reintroduction" - Anne Lacey

Can we imagine a world where the Whooping Crane is only threatened, not endangered? Since the first cohort of Whooping Cranes was introduced to the Wisconsin landscape in 2001, just over 300 birds have been released by various rearing and release methods. Fast forward to 2020: just how are we doing toward the goal of downlisting? There are now over 25 breeding pairs and many youngsters scattered about Wisconsin and other states! But that does not mean the project is without challenges. There have been issues with nesting and chick production, complicated by moves to new release areas and amended release methods. Join us for a look at the trials and tribulations of bringing a charismatic species back from the brink.

"Conservation Ranching" - Andrew Pierson

In Nebraska and throughout the Midwest, working agricultural lands represent one of the best hopes for conservation. Learn how Audubon in scaling its efforts to conserve grassland birds through a working lands initiative of collaboration with landowners, land managers, government agencies and private industry. A flagship program of the initiative is the Audubon Conservation Ranching Program, a market-based solution that helps land managers increase the profitability of their lands as they adopt bird-friendly practices.  


"Cranes of the World" - Sandra Noll and Erv Nichols

This generously illustrated program opens with an overview of the history, art, and mythology of cranes followed by introductions to the world’s 15 crane species. The two species specific to North America, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, will be given prominence.  Woven throughout is the universal connection between cranes and wetlands and the role of the International Crane Foundation’s mission in conservation of ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways upon which cranes depend worldwide.    

"Habitat Changes at Rowe Sanctuary" - Cody Wagner

In a changing world, our remaining wild areas must be diverse and flexible to provide what our native species need to survive. Join Rowe Sanctuary’s habitat manager for a discussion on how we use best management practices and cutting edge research to create and maintain quality bird habitat.

3:00-3:30 - Break


"Plants for Birds PRO" - Jason "The Birdnerd" St. Sauver

Campaign for Native Plants! We all know that having more native plants on the landscape is better for birds, but what are the best ways to do it? Which plants do I use and how can I do more than just plant a few in my yard?  Learn about Audubon’s Plants for Birds PRO initiative and take your advocacy for birds to the next level.

"The Ribbon of Life: New Mexico's Strategy for the Rio Grande" - Paul Tashjian and Amy Erickson

The Rio Grande is among the most iconic rivers in the western United States. The Rio Grande ecosystem supplies irrigation for food production in both America and Mexico as well as renewable drinking water to fast-growing urban centers on both sides of the international border.
Audubon and partners have done an analysis of the region and determined ripe opportunities exist now for Audubon to make a difference for birds and the habitats they rely on in the Rio Grande watershed, particularly in central New Mexico. In this presentation participants will learn about Audubon New Mexico strategies,  including improving water availability for bird and wildlife habitat, increasing efficient agricultural water use, improving water quality, and meeting cultural, recreation, and community health needs.


"Survival by Degrees" - Chad Wilsey

Two-thirds of North American Birds are at increasing risk of extinction from climate change. But, immediate and aggressive action on climate change can reduce the threats to 76% of those species. Dr. Wilsey will share the science behind Audubon’s latest report on climate change and introduce the Birds and Climate Visualizer, a one-of-a-kind tool to understand what climate change will mean to you and the birds in your backyard.

"Corn and Cranes: 150 years of Change in the Platte River Valley" - Larkin Powell

Nebraska’s landscapes have changed throughout history. Arguably, the immigration of European and eastern Americans in the 1800s marked the start of the period of the most dramatic change to the Platte River Valley. Agricultural statistics have been recorded since 1866 and provide insights into changes in land use in this critical area of the Great Plains. Of course, land use affects ecosystem dynamics including trends in bird populations. Irrigation, mechanization, export demand, and the rise of biofuels have affected the type of crops planted and harvested in the Platte River Valley. Corn has been king in Nebraska since the early days of agriculture, and I will use historic photos to visualize changes to landscapes over 150 years. Sandhill Cranes may have benefited from the availability of corn as their own type of biofuel while many other species of birds have suffered as grasslands and wetlands disappeared. I will also explore present-day challenges that modern agriculture poses to cranes and other migratory birds and innovative solutions that may allow us to use our landscapes to produce food while protecting wildlife.


"Cranes, Cottonwoods and Connections to Rivers" - Mary Harner

Our current research highlights ecological themes within and across three river systems, with a focus on the Platte in Nebraska and Middle Rio Grande and Gila in New Mexico. The landscape, management, and culture may differ among watersheds, but these rivers share commonalities as important habitat for cranes, areas surrounded by cottonwood forests, and sources of beauty and water for people. We will share examples of repeat photography, videography, ecological soundscapes, and other data visualizations to convey change over time and diversity associated with these rivers. Overall, we aim to provide people with a deeper connection to these landscapes and a chance to perceive rivers in new ways.

“Are Cranes Hydrologists? Platte River Flows and Crane Habitat” - Scott Griebling

“The Platte River provides a critical link in the Whooping and Sandhill Crane migration but it hasn’t always looked like it does today.  The river has evolved over the past 150 years in response to human impacts and the cranes have had to adapt along with it.  This presentation will explain the hydrologic processes that create and support crane habitat and discuss how high river flows, such as those seen in 2019, and drought periods, such as the drought in the early 2000’s, impact migrating cranes in the central Platte River.  It will highlight what is being done to restore and improve crane habitat in the river and what the potential impacts of a climate change/climate variability on river conditions might be.”

6:00-7:00 - Social Hour

7:00–8:00 - Banquet

8:00-9:00 - Banquet Speaker - George Archibald: "How Climate Change Threatens Cranes Worldwide"

If you can’t make the festival but still want to see the Sandhill Cranes, check out Rowe Sanctuary's website, to learn about more crane viewing options.

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