Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the sandhill crane.
In winter, immense flocks of sandhill cranes are found in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and in other areas of the southern United States and northern Mexico. Before these birds head off to northern breeding areas, they congregate in the thousands at sites known as staging areas.
These areas, like the National Wildlife Refuge in Monte Vista, provide places to feed and rest. Here these cranes feed on seeds, grains and small animals in nearby fields, loaf during midday and roost at night in large groups, standing in shallow water areas which provide some protection against predators.
With long, broad wings, neck stretched out and feet trailing, sandhill cranes are strong fliers capable of flying up to 400 miles per day. Many of the birds stopping in Colorado head as far as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to breed. Following courtship, pairs mate for life and stay together throughout their long lives. Dancing to each other with leaps into the air strengthens pair bonds. This activity is not limited to courtship displays and, once started, can spread throughout the flock at any time of year.
Powerful feet with sharp claws and strong bills are used by adults against predators in defense of nests and young birds called colts. A female typically lays two eggs in a hidden ground nest near water, but most often only one young survives to fledgling stage.
Adult sandhill cranes are large, tall birds colored slate gray with a rusty wash on the back and red on the crown that extends over the eyes. Spending time with huge numbers of these majestic birds while listening to their constant chatter is mesmerizing, an experience available now until early April in Monte Vista.
An article in last week’s (March 2) SUN by Colorado Parks and Wildlife describes the Crane Festival held in Monte Vista from March 10 to 12 to celebrate these amazing birds.
For information on events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.