For thousands of years in late February/early March, the sandhill cranes have made Colorado’s San Luis Valley their layover to fuel up for their annual south to north trek. Visitors to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge can witness this phenomenal natural spectacle.
In late February the Rocky Mountain sandhill crane flock, estimated to be 20,000 strong, start arriving from their wintering grounds at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. They will be here until late March or early April eating the grain that will support them as they fly 850 miles north to their summer breeding grounds at Grays Lake National Wildlife refuge in southeastern Idaho. They make their reverse migration in early September through early November.
It is also in the San Luis Valley that the cranes perform their courtship dance, leaping and bowing while raising and lowering their wings, and making a croaking sound to one another. Once a male and female bond they form a pair for life.
Greater sandhill cranes are about four feet tall with a six foot wingspan. They weigh around twelve to thirteen pounds and are uniformly gray except for a red patch of skin on their foreheads.
You may also see similar-looking but much smaller birds in the area. These are lesser sandhill cranes, and about 1,200 of them are part of the Rocky Mountain flock. Most lesser sandhill cranes stay east of the Continental Divide in a flock of 500,000 that make a well-known migratory stop in the Platte River basin of Nebraska. Besides the cranes there are thousands of waterfowl, numerous wintering bald eagles and other raptors that highlight the wildlife viewing.
Thank you Coolsville Colorado local, Raymond Vreeland, for the great story. For more photographs by Ray please check out: http://www.artworknetwork.com/raymondvreeland/
As a Coolsville Colorado resident, Please share your experiences as we all pursue the best Colorado has to offer.