Migrating sandhill cranes arrive in San Luis Valley
40th year of viewing festival planned in Monte Vista
MONTE VISTA — As the Monte Vista Crane Festival prepares for its 40th year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff and volunteers will be assisting visitors to the event as it returns to a full in-person format.
The highlight of the three-day festival, to be held this year from March 10-12, is the spectacle of more than 20,000 greater sandhill cranes making their annual spring migration and stopping over in Southern Colorado as they transition from winter habitat to breeding range in the north.
“This is one of the great wildlife migrations in the country that people can actually get out and see,” said CPW Education and Volunteer Coordinator Catherine Brons. “The Monte Vista Crane Festival is an exciting event that CPW and our wonderful volunteers take pride in being a part of, and we love this chance to reunite with some volunteers who have assisted with this for decades.”
Those interested in attending official event sites to see the sandhill cranes and other bird species can reserve tickets at https://mvcranefest.org. CPW staff and volunteers will support outdoor scope sites and be on hand to help answer questions.
CPW will also host a booth at the Outcalt Event and Conference at SLV Ski Hi Complex in Monte Vista throughout the event to provide additional information and learning opportunities.
Attendees may also attend a talk from 1-2 p.m. Saturday, March 11, regarding elk on the San Luis Valley refuge complex. The $5 presentation will be led by Doug Ouren, the Elk Distribution and Dispersal Coordinator for CPW’s Habitat Partnership Program. Tickets for speaker events at the Monte Vista Crane Festival are available online.
“We are thrilled to see this event return to full in-person activities and are looking forward to engaging with the public to provide educational opportunities along with all of the festival’s partners,” Brons said.
Cranes are migratory birds, and the Rocky Mountain population of greater sandhill cranes is estimated at roughly 20,000. Much of the population spends its winter in nesting grounds south in New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico and will migrate north in the spring to summer breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet, with fossil records dating back 9 million years. The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill crane subspecies standing 4-feet tall with a wingspan of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous and distinctive call.
The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge sees thousands of sandhill cranes each day during this time of year. The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge will be open one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunrise for crane viewing. Cranes may also be viewed at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Alamosa and at CPW’s Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes State Wildlife Areas. CPW asks the public to please observe the seasonal closures at the State Wildlife Areas.
Cranes are most active at dusk and dawn when they move from nighttime roosting areas to fields where they feed. People attending the crane festival’s viewing sites may also see eagles, owls, turkeys and a variety of other raptors and waterfowl.
Birdwatchers should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. View birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes and observe trail signs and closure notices.
Those who attend the Monte Vista Crane Festival are encouraged to dress warmly with winter temperatures and wind always expected.
For more information on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, go to https://mvcranefest.org/festival/; or www.fws.gov/refuge/Monte_Vista. For more information on State Wildlife Areas in the San Luis Valley, go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo.