The annual, and amazing, spring migration of the Greater Sandhill Crane is underway in San Luis Valley, drawing up to 25,000 birds through March.
The cranes are back in Colorado! Take a fun day or weekend trip down to Monte Vista on March 8-10 to join in the bird-watching festivities, or head down on your own to see these magnificent birds through March.
The cranes started arriving in mid-February, flying in from the winter grounds, which are mostly in New Mexico. They are particularly drawn to the San Luis Valley because of the large, open wetlands, grain fields, and wildlife refuges. They will rest up and replenish in the valley until they head to summer breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
"Everyone who lives in Colorado should take the time to see this ancient and magnificent migration,” said Joe Lewandowski, public information officer for the Southwest Region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "This is one of only a few great wildlife migrations in the United States that people can easily see. The sights and sounds are absolutely amazing."
According to CPW, the birds that visit the state are the largest species of crane, standing four-feet tall, having a wing-span of up to seven feet, and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive, and haunting call. At this time of year, cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elegant hopping dance to gain the attention of other birds.
Greater Sandhill Cranes in the San Luis Valley. Courtesy of USFWS Mountain Prairie.
The crane numbers peak in mid-March, so the Monte Vista Crane Festival aims to fall near that time. This Friday through Sunday, you can enjoy free bus tours to Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the cranes are most active.
If you can't make the festival or want to see the birds, CPW says many still stick around through the end of March, and there are a few prime areas to view them.
"The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, about 5 miles south of town of Colorado Highway 15. Birds also gather at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, southeast of the town of Alamosa, and at that Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas," CPW relates.
Here are a few tips for catching a glimpse of the cranes, courtesy of CPW:
- Cranes are most active at dawn and dusk.
- Birdwatchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles, and walking along roads.
- People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes.
- Please observe trail signs and closure notices.
- Keep your eyes peeled for other bird species, including eagles, turkeys, owls (look to the cottonwood trees for these guys), and more!
Fun Fact: Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet, with fossil records dating back nine million years!
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