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Sandhill Crane Migration in New Mexico

Birds put on an amazing show at Bosque del Apache over the winter

Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill Crane Migration
"Festival of Cranes" at Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Sandhill cranes are among the most prominent birds in North America. They can't be missed due to their large size of 4-6 ft (1.2-1.3 m) and incredible mobility. Sandhill cranes make an appearance in half a dozen states during their annual migration between north and south. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Socorro in New Mexico, is one of the cranes' favorite wintering sites. It hosts cranes, which arrive from Alaska and Canada, looking for shelter and food during the cold months.

Starting from Halloween, the 57,331 ac (23,067 ha) refuge located at the foothills of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains witnesses a spectacular bird show put on by sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, ducks, and snow geese that stay in the Río Grande bosque overnight and feed at nearby agricultural fields.

Check in with the visitor center for recent roosting sites and bird sightings. The best time to spot birds is usually at sunrise when they leave their nighttime shelter to look for food. The best spots include the Wetland Roost along NM 1 or the North Loop Pond, which is equipped with the Flight Deck for the best views. The birds usually leave by Valentine's Day, heading to their breeding grounds in the north.

To celebrate the annual migration, Bosque del Apache hosts the annual Festival of the Cranes during the week before Thanksgiving, the peak time for crane-watching. The festival features lectures, photography workshops, and various educational activities.

Practical info

When is the migration period for sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache? Where are they from?

Sandhill cranes migrate to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge from as far as Alaska and Canada, starting from late October to early November. During this period, numerous birds fly to warmer areas seeking food and refuge. The cranes remain in the sanctuary until Valentine's Day, where they leave for their breeding grounds in the north. Show more

What are the ideal spots for bird-watching at Bosque del Apache? How can visitors access them?

North Loop Pond, Flight Deck, and Wetland Roost along NM-1 offer exceptional spots for observing birds at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. These areas provide comfortable viewing stations for bird-watching during sunrise when the birds emerge from the shelter to find food in the neighboring agricultural fields. The visitor center provides information on the latest bird sightings and roosting sites. Show more

Apart from sandhill cranes, which other birds can visitors observe at Bosque del Apache during migration period?

In addition to sandhill cranes, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge serves as a sanctuary for other bird species like snow geese, ducks, and whooping cranes. The sanctuary is home to various wild animals and birds, making it a perfect destination for wildlife enthusiasts and bird-watchers. Throughout the year, visitors can observe over 300 bird species. Show more

Are there any places to stay near Bosque del Apache refuge? If so, where?

Lodges and cabins are currently unavailable at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. However, visitors can access various alternative accommodations located nearby. Accommodation options in Socorro, which is seven miles from the sanctuary, include hotels and bed and breakfasts, while Albuquerque, situated 70 miles, and Santa Fe, 140 miles away, have more extensive lodging alternatives, such as vacation rentals and hotels. Show more

What kind of activities can visitors participate in during the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache?

The annual Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, usually a week before Thanksgiving, offers a combination of exciting, educational, and fun activities. The event coincides with the peak of sandhill crane migration period, and visitors get to observe numerous bird activities. Interactive activities like lectures, photography workshops, walking tours, art and craft shows, and wildlife booths are also available, designed to maximize visitors' bird-watching experiences. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen