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Watch thousands of cranes descend upon the San Luis Valley, and the hundreds of people who flock to see them

Posted at 10:41 AM, Mar 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-19 12:41:10-04

MONTE VISTA — For several millennia, the end of winter in the San Luis Valley has been marked by more than 20,000 sandhill cranes descending on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to rest, feed, dance, and prepare for the next leg of their northerly migration.

The colossal clouds of migratory cranes crowding the sky and immersing the senses of thousands of onlookers in a veritable sea of melodious, garbled cackling have fascinated nature enthusiasts for years and years.

This appreciation for nature eventually led to the creation of the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival which has been hosted during the peak of the migration for the past 41 years.

Over 20,000 cranes spend part of their spring and fall each year in this valley. After wintering in southern 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.
National Park Service

In order to gain a better perspective on the importance of the habitat and food resources represented by the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and its surrounding lands as well as some of the efforts made to preserve these lands, we've included interviews with the following:

  • Tony Caligiuri, President and CEO of Colorado Open Lands
Interview: Tony Caligiuri, President of Colorado Open Lands

  • Suzanne Beauchaine, Refuge Manager for both the Monte Vista and Alamosa National Wildlife Refuges
Interview: Suzanne Beauchaine, Refuge Manager

If you're looking for the best place to view and snap some photos of this migratory event, you can find maps on the Crane Fest website.

Learn more about these amazing cranes from Colorado Parks & Wildlife or from the National Park Service.

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