Nothing signals the arrival of spring in Colorado quite the like the arrival of the sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley. The Monte Vista Crane Festival may be over, but there is still plenty of opportunity to see the cranes at the wildlife refuge.
The cranes make their pilgrimage to the valley at the end of each winter in an annual migration which stretches into the distant past.
“As long as they’ve been here, they’ve probably been coming through the San Luis Valley, which has probably been tens of thousands of years,” said Mike Blenden, who oversees the refuge.
The cranes spend their winters in southern New Mexico, in the summer they are found at their nesting grounds in northern Idaho. On the migration as many as 20,000 cranes will stop in the San Luis Valley to rest and refuel.
Each day they leave their roosting sites to feed on the grain found throughout the region.
“They remind of my granddad,” Blenden said. “They’re pretty set in their ways and very stable. They know what they want to do and they do it year after year after year.”
The cranes spend the month of March in the valley giving all Coloradans an opportunity to see the giant birds personally.
“They’re neat to watch come in and then at this time of year, they’ll be dancing and flapping their wings, kind of a mating call,” said Greg Thompson who helps organize the annual crane festival.
And mating for the sandhill crane is serious business. When a female and male become a pair, they mate for life and wing their way through the San Luis Valley together each year.
For the humans who share the valley, the cranes are welcome visitors every year, they only stay for the month of March.
“They’re kind of a nice visitor to have and they don’t need to overstay their welcome,” said Thompson. “They’re here for four or five weeks and they’re out of here.”