MONTE VISTA — Each year from early February through late March, more than 20,000 sandhill cranes descend upon the San Luis Valley, specifically on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, to rest, feed, dance, and prepare for the next leg of their annual northerly migration.
The event is spectacular in nature not just for the clouds of birds that crowd the sky and inundate one's senses with the sounds of melodious calls, but also because visitors can get so close to the cranes while the birds go about their business and enjoy their natural habitat.
The combination of these factors led to the creation of the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival which has been hosted during the peak of this migration for the past 40 years.
After wintering in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, they typically begin to arrive in the San Luis Valley in early February, while winter temperatures still drop below zero degrees F at night. While here, they build up energy by feasting on barley grains in agricultural fields and aquatic invertebrates in wetlands. Cranes mate for life, but each spring they renew their bond through a courtship ritual that includes dancing, bowing, chortling, and throwing tufts of grass in the air. They leave again by late March for the northern U.S. and Canada, where they raise their young. In fall, they begin to arrive back in the San Luis Valley in late September, and leave by late November.
The migration typically draws hundreds of visitors to the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, many of whom are professional photographers and report snapping (conservatively) thousands of photos each day. As a result of this, access to interesting and captivating crane-centric media is quite high.
If you're looking to catch your own photographs of this migratory event, you can find maps on the Crane Fest website.
Learn more about these amazing cranes from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.