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Sandhill Crane Migration

Thousands of cranes spend winter in southeast Arizona

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen
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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.

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