Valley of the Cranes

My husband and I went down to the San Luis Valley, in south central Colorado, last weekend. We’ve been down there to see the sandhill crane migration several times in the last few years (Miniature Upslope Storm), and it is always an amazing experience.

Twenty thousand cranes pass through the San Luis Valley in late February  to mid March.

Sandhill lift-off-6_edited-1

An equal number of other water birds — Canada and snow geese, a wide variety of ducks, and great blue herons, join the cranes as they pass through the Valley in one of the last great migrations of the lower 48. All these birds come for the food produced in the Valley’s marshy wetlands. Once they’ve built up their reserves, they’ll be on their way again, north to their breeding grounds that stretch from northern Colorado, into Canada, Alaska, and for some hardy birds, Siberia.

Sandhills drinking from marsh-3_edited-1
Two adult sandhill cranes feed in a wetland.

Sandhill cranes are tall birds, long legs and neck taking them to 3 1/2 feet high, with a wingspan up to 6 feet across. They are grey, with brown mottling across their wings. Adults have a red patch above their eyes.

These beautiful birds mate for life, or at least long-term. They show their attraction to their mates by dancing, jumping and bowing.

dancing sandhills-5-1_edited-1
This high jump may be intended to intimidate rivals.
dancing sandhills-7-1_edited-1-1
These two cranes reinforce their bond with an upright wing spread.
dancing sandhills-3-1_edited-1
While the bird second from left does a “ruffle bow” the bird on the far right spreads its wings.

These beautiful displays have earned cranes a place in the hearts of people from many different cultures.

For all that their visual displays are a feast for the eyes, though, I think the thing that stunned my husband and I the most was the deafening noise that 2000 cranes make when they lift-off together. The thousands of birds calling could be heard from over a mile away.

Huge flock to west-2
The noise these birds made was incredibly loud from over a mile away.

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