PHOTOS: Sandhill Crane migration through Colorado’s San Luis Valley

Spring is arriving in the San Luis Valley on the wings of the sandhill cranes and other migratory birds like Canada geese and ducks as they migrate through Southern Colorado.

The entire valley is rich with wildlife and open land offering refuge to hundreds of bird species. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been protected in the area, including Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, Alamosa Wildlife Refuge and Medano-Zapata Ranch, where 100,000 acres have been preserved. Medano-Zapata Ranch offers places to view wildlife in pristine environments while riding on horses through the ranch or the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The high soaring sandhill cranes are one of the world’s oldest living bird species, dating back 50 million years and ranging over multiple continents.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the 38th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival will take place virtually. The migration is at its peak right now with approximately 23,000-27,000 cranes migrating biannually through the valley. Viewing will be good for the next three to four weeks.

During their migration, cranes primarily feed on small grains such as barley and wheat, but they will also supplement their diet with roots, seeds, and small vertebrates found in wetlands.

The cranes’ enormous wingspan helps to lift them thousands of feet into the sky. At times they disappear into the clouds leading many cultures to believe cranes carry souls from Earth to heaven. Throughout the world, mystical qualities have been ascribed to them. In honor of the graceful birds, early Spanish explorers named the eastern San Juan Mountains, Sierra De Las Grullas, or Mountains of the Cranes.

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