Spotted! Sandhill Cranes

Spring and fall mean bird migration time – and we get plenty of them in the Wet Mountain Valley. Some only stop by for a brief visit. More stay for the summer season, similar to some of our human residents.


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Earlier this week, the distinctive buzzing sound of hummingbirds prompted us to put out our hummingbird feeder (and write ourselves reminder notes to bring them in at night so we don’t attract the bears to our deck!). The diminutive little birds are everywhere during the summer months, but on the other side of the size spectrum is very interesting species of bird that is only an occasional visitor here – Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes congregate in a few areas in Colorado during their migration and one of the more well-known is the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley – our neighbors to the west. Every March, Monte Vista hosts a large Crane Festival filled with wildlife experts, biologists, photographers, bird watchers, and tourists all converging to see the 20,000 or so sandhill cranes before they fly on to their summer breeding grounds.

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Just after sunrise on a spring morning last year we saw a few sandhill cranes on the banks of Grape Creek performing a mating dance. It was quite a sight, the gangly, tall birds dancing and bowing and leaping in front of a female. We were privileged to be able to watch for a while before we had to leave, but when we came back by an hour later they were gone, so we can’t say who she chose.

Our home seems to be directly under the migration path for the sandhill cranes, and we hear them often during late spring and early fall when they’re on their way to either summer breeding grounds, or winter gathering places. They are quite loud and easy to recognize - their calls while flying are very distinct from other large flocks like geese. Click here to have a listen!

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A few days ago, I was out saddling horses and enjoying the warm spring weather when I heard them – the first flock of the season. They were coming down from their mountain crossing, calling loudly to each other as they rotated positions in the flock and circled around. In my more whimsical moments I imagine they’re doing a headcount to make sure everyone made it over the Sangres.

I watched them fly out over the Valley before losing sight of them as they dipped down for a break at the pond by Beckwith Ranch. The wide open spaces of our Valley might not attract the huge crowds of cranes that Monte Vista does, but it makes for a nice rest area.

About the author: Patty Reagin is a freelance writer and volunteer for San Isabel Land Protection Trust. Her monthly blog for San Isabel titled "Spotted" features the beauty of the flora and fauna in our region. When Patty's not behind a computer working she can be found outside, taking in the beauty of the Wet Mountain Valley with her dogs and horses.


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