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Sandhill Crane Migration in Arizona

Thousands of cranes spend winter in southeast Arizona

Best time: November–early March

Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill Crane Migration
A sandhill crane flies over Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Sandhill Cranes are the most numerous cranes species in the world and they can be easily spotted in southwestern states such as New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona over winter months. Cranes are looking for marshlands and wetlands that do not freeze over during the coldest time of the year, and the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Southeast Arizona is one of their favorite wintering grounds in the region.

About 20,000 sandhill cranes arrive at Whitewater Draw starting from November. Shallow waters and the abundance of leftover grain at nearby farm fields sustain the birds through the cold months. In mid-March, the birds head to their breeding sites in northern states, Canada and Alaska.

Cranes are most active before sunset when they take off from their nighttime shelters to look for food. They can also be spotted in the afternoon when they return on water. Cranes prefer to roost in open areas so they can be seen from a distance. From mid-October to mid-March, the roosting sites at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area are closed for public entry for the birds' safety, but it's still possible to observe from a distance.

Practical info

When can sandhill cranes be observed in Arizona?

Sandhill cranes can be observed in Arizona during the winter months, specifically from November to early March. They can be easily spotted in wetland and marshland areas, especially at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. After the winter months, they migrate to their breeding sites in northern states, Alaska, and Canada. Spotting these birds during the winter months is a great opportunity for bird watching enthusiasts. Show more

Which location in Arizona is a popular wintering site for sandhill cranes?

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area located in southeast Arizona is a popular wintering site for sandhill cranes. The birds are attracted to the shallow waters and abundance of food sources from surrounding farm fields. To observe these birds safely, it's best to view them from a distance in open areas. The area is especially important as it provides refuge and food for around 20,000 sandhill cranes each winter season. Show more

What is the estimated number of sandhill cranes that migrate to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area each winter season?

Around 20,000 sandhill cranes are estimated to migrate to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area each winter season, making it one of the most vital wintering sites for sandhill cranes in Southeast Arizona. This site is essential for the birds' survival, as the wetlands and marshlands do not freeze over during winter when the cranes migrate to the area. It's crucial that the site is protected during the migration season to ensure the birds' health and well-being. Show more

What are the preferred food sources of sandhill cranes during their migration season?

Sandhill cranes feed on several items during their migration, including leftover grains from nearby farm fields, insects, snails, and small animals like rodents. They are most active during their flight to locate these food sources and prefer to feed late in the afternoon after sunset or early in the morning. At night, they roost in open areas and move around to find new food sources as necessary. Show more

What safety rules should be followed when observing sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area?

When observing sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, it's important to keep a safe distance from the birds to avoid disturbing their roosting sites. During the migration season from mid-October to mid-March, the roosting sites are closed to the public, and it's crucial to respect this rule for the safety of the birds. Sandhill cranes can become easily threatened by the presence of humans and may become aggressive or noisy when anxious, so it's important to view these animals from a safe distance. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen