It's that time of the year again – when 23,000 to 27,000 sandhill cranes return to Colorado's San Luis Valley after wintering in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.
One of two annual trips the birds make through this southern Colorado region, their winter presence lasts from early February through late March. This is one of the coldest times of the year in the San Luis Valley, a place known for its wild temperature swings between daytime and nighttime hours. The average monthly low in February is around 6 degrees Fahrenheit and the average high is around 40 degrees, though sub-zero temperatures can be common during periods of the winter months.
The cranes stop through the valley to regain energy before pushing onward toward the northern United States. Eventually, they'll return in the fall from late September to late November.
If one is hoping to spot a crane, they should look in agricultural fields during the day and in wetland areas during dusk and dawn. One popular spot to find large numbers of this bird is Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, located six miles south of Monte Vista. San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area is another popular spot, though viewing areas here are only open to the public during the fall.
Those headed to spot these birds should always view them from a safe distance and avoid disturbing their natural behavior. Stay in official viewing areas and do not trespass on private property for a better view.
Find more information about the sandhill crane migration on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge website.