By air: Cranes arrive in San Luis Valley |

By air: Cranes arrive in San Luis Valley

Special to the Daily Sandhill cranes on the wing.

In the San Luis Valley, nature is now putting on one of its most memorable annual displays – the spring migration of greater sandhill cranes.

And there’s a festival happening next weekend for those who want to check it out.

From March 11-13, area organizations, businesses and wildlife agencies are holding the 28th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival.      

“Everyone who lives in Colorado should see this migration at least once,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Monte Vista. “The sights and sounds are truly amazing.”

The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting ground in Socorro, N.M. Large wetland areas and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds every year. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and fuel-up for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in northern Idaho, western Wyoming and northwest Colorado. The cranes that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies. The big birds stand 4 feet tall and have 6-foot wingspans.

The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and are easy to spot. Wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and in the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas.

During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers talk about the migration and the refuge. Spotting scopes at the stops are provided by the DOW.

The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March, and many linger through the month, allowing plenty of time to see the birds.

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, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.

Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen in the area.

For more information on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, visit

To learn more about sandhill cranes, visit

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