Every autumn throughout the western United States there are a plethora of festivals to celebrate the return of the Sandhill Crane to their wintering grounds. Just like many other migratory birds, they undergo an epic journey twice a year, but what sets them apart from the flocks of larks, murmurations of starlings and charms of finches that undertake similar quests for warmer weather and abundant food supplies?
First, birds of the gruidae family are set apart from other migratory birds by their sheer size. Even in a place like New Mexico that boasts an abundance of large hawks and eagles, the leggy Sandhill Crane dwarfs them. The size of these graceful birds is even more impressive when large numbers of them congregate for migration. When I say large, I mean it- tens of thousands of birds group together to move south.
As they migrate, usually during daylight (unlike many migratory birds who travel by night) Sandhill Cranes project a deep rolling call, with mated pairs performing a sort of call-and-response, the female in double time. With their distinct red mask and graceful demeanor, these birds are a welcome addition to the abundant avian life found in New Mexico, and notable, because their stay here is somewhat brief.
Welcoming the Sandhill Cranes back to the open spaces of our state is also an acknowledgment of the turning of the seasons and the intelligence of the natural world. For avid birdwatchers, as well as amateurs, this viewing opportunity is one-of-a-kind.
At the annual Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge visitors can do more than just observe the birds, but attend classes and workshops that contextualize the experience and further connect them with the landscape. This year the festival runs from Tuesday, November 17th through Sunday, the 22nd. Those who can't attend the festival can still see the abundant Sandhill Cranes well into March.