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Sandhill Cranes Stop Over at San Luis Valley During Annual Spring Migration


April 18, 2018

Karen AuBuchon Johnson

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes stop over at the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge located south of Monte Vista during their annual spring and fall migration. The cranes can be observed in the San Luis Valley for several weeks at a time with their numbers peaking mid-March and mid-October.

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Every year over 20,000 Sandhill Cranes stop at the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge located south of Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley during their annual spring and fall migrations. Staying in the valley for several weeks at a time, their numbers peak mid-March and mid-October. A variety of ducks and geese and an occasional raptor can also be seen.

This year the 35th annual Monte Vista Crane Festival was held March 9-11. The public was invited to attend a variety of events including tours of the refuge, presentations by guest speakers, arts and crafts vendors and much more.

"People in Colorado should take time to see the cranes; the migration is truly one of nature's wonders," said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting grounds, primarily in New Mexico. The large wetland areas, wildlife refuges and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and re-fuel for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Karen AuBuchon Johnson

An American Coot, a small water bird, runs across the top of the pond flapping its wings. Its long lobed, yellow-green toes work well to propel it in the water.

Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years. The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall with a wing-span of up to 7 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 elaborate and elegant hopping dance to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are most abundant at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, located six miles south of the town of Monte Vista on Colorado Highway 15. The refuge was established in 1953 by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to provide a habitat for wildlife, particularly waterfowl, in the San Luis Valley.


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