GIBBON, Neb. — The spring migration of hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes is a welcome sight for bird enthusiasts and businesses in the Platte River valley. Just not on the ballfield.
For the past three seasons, cranes have returned to the outfield at Legion Fields in Gibbon. They are attracted to the manicured outfields for easy pickings during their daytime browsing. They pull up the grass in the outfield, leaving large divots, while looking for insects.
“They get in there and tear it up,” said Dan Sell, Gibbon utilities superintendent. “They seem to be more persistent than we are.”
The damage to the field is serious. The sod in the outfields needs to be redone, a process that would cost Gibbon and its taxpayers thousands of dollars.
This season, Sell and his staff have placed large neon-green crosses, mylar streamers and wind chimes everywhere on the field to deter the cranes.
“Our goal is to aggravate them,” said Sell, who also volunteers as a Little League coach.
Staff members don't want to seem like they are harassing the birds.
The spring migration is not only one of the greatest wildlife shows on Earth, it means a lot to the Gibbon economy. But a lumpy field is dangerous.
“Our main concern is for the safety of the children,” Sell said.
The field, built in 2000 on land donated by American Legion Post 310, is primarily used by youth baseball and soccer teams.
Sell and his staff have tried several approaches to deter the birds from feeding in the outfield. None have worked.
They even thought of covering the outfield with used tarp but worried that it would hurt the grass.
“The tarps were blue, and we thought the birds would be attracted by what may appear to be water,” Sell said.
The town might want to take a more aggressive approach, according to Joel Jorgensen, nongame bird program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“Trying to do things subtly doesn't work,” Jorgensen said. “You really just want to freak the birds out so they don't get acclimated to the area.”
Jorgensen was surprised to hear that the town's efforts weren't working, but said sending someone onto the field periodically to scare the birds elsewhere wouldn't be considered harassment.
Easily spooked because of hunting seasons on sandhill cranes in neighboring states, the large birds generally scatter if people walk toward them.
“There are plenty of places for the cranes elsewhere,” Jorgensen said.
One technique commonly used on unwanted birds is shell crackers — shells that fire a load with a report, or a firecracker burst, when fired.
Gibbon officials have avoided using shell crackers because the ballpark is next to a residential area.
“It's tough because it is so close to town,” Sell said.
The cranes do appear to favor baseball over football. The Gibbon football field is just across the street from Legion Fields, and not one crane has taken to the football field.
“I wish they'd just stay in the country and not come in the town,” Sell said.
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