Since 10-million-year-old sandhill crane fossils were found in Nebraska, it is considered to be one of the oldest bird species on the planet. They are also quite common in North America where the population of these majestic birds reaches half a million. These iconic birds travel thousands of miles each year between northern and southern states. About 20,000 cranes make a stop at the San Luis Valley in Colorado during their fall and spring migrations.
Sandhill cranes arrive in Southern Colorado in late February after spending cold months in New Mexico at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. They feed on leftover grains in farm fields and small fish in wetlands. In March, they continue their migration to nesting grounds in northern states and Canada. However, in September the birds return to the San Luis Valley and spend about a month there before leaving for New Mexico by late November.
Sunset and sunrise are the best times to spot sandhill cranes as they are most active during these periods. Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is the premier location for crane viewing in Colorado due to vast barley fields as well as wetlands that provide habitat and food for cranes. Birds are often spotted on the roads around the refuge, in particular Highway 15 that traverses Monte Vista. San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area is another good location with a large lake in the middle. Cranes are often spotted at dawn on the north shore of the lake and wetlands in the northern area of the park. Mind that wetlands are closed from mid-February to mid-July due to nesting. The Rio Grande State Wildlife Area also hosts some cranes during the migrations.
When can sandhill cranes be viewed in the San Luis Valley?
One can spot sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley when they migrate to the area, which is usually in late February to March and mid-September to mid-November. Visitors can view the birds during sunrise and sunset, as it's when they are most active. The valley provides enough food for the birds before heading to their nesting or wintering grounds. Show more
Which areas in Colorado are suitable for watching sandhill cranes?
Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge prides itself as the best location for watching sandhill cranes in Colorado, with a vast barley field and wetlands as their habitat and food source. Highway 15 that passes through the refuge and the park roads present good opportunities for spotting birds. Visitors can also go to San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area and Rio Grande State Wildlife Area for crane watching. Show more
How many sandhill cranes visit Colorado during migration?
Colorado has around 20,000 sandhill cranes yearly, visiting the state during their migration periods that fall between late February to March and mid-September to mid-November. They feed on small fish in the wetlands and grains in farm fields before heading to their wintering or nesting grounds. The number of sandhill cranes in North America is estimated to be over half a million. Show more
Why is Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge a significant location for sandhill crane viewing?
Due to its vast barley fields and wetlands with enough food and habitat for the birds, Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is the best location for viewing sandhill cranes in Colorado. Visitors can spot birds on the roads that pass through the refuge, and park rangers offer guided tours. Highway 15 is the ideal spot for crane watching while in Monte Vista. Show more
When are visitors allowed to access the wetlands at San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area?
The wetlands at San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area are closed between mid-February and mid-July due to nesting. Visitors can visit the area during the other months, especially during the migration periods of sandhill cranes, around late February to March and mid-September to mid-November. Although the big lake and northern wetlands provide good bird watching locations, visitors must be aware of the seasonal changes and closures. Show more