Greater sandhill cranes make their way to the Yampa Valley this month
Steamboat Springs — Although the weather may be interfering with their arrival, the migration of the greater sandhill cranes to the Yampa Valley has begun.
For the third year in a row, the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition — presenters of the annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival held here in September — will sponsor a First Crane Sighting Contest through the month of March.
“It will be a mystery when they show up this year,” said Nancy Merrill, a coalition volunteer. “I saw one out on the river in Hayden one year ago today (Tuesday). It could be much later in March but you never really know. These cranes only go to areas where the conditions are just right for them, and we are really lucky that they come here.”
The sandhill cranes leave their wintering homes in New Mexico and Arizona to head north. Many will stop to rest in the San Luis Valley at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge while others will make a brief stop in the Eckert or Delta area south of Grand Junction.
Based on past sightings, the arrival of the sandhill cranes can be expected in the Yampa Valley during the first or second week in March.
Participants who want to enter the First Crane Sighting Contest are asked to document sightings of the first sandhill crane in the Yampa Valley by either emailing the photo to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing the photo to CCCC Headquarters, 40625 County Road 69A, Hayden, CO 81639. The entries should include the date, time and location of the sighting, as well as any other pertinent details.
“Every year, you hear their call out in the field, you know it’s a sign of spring,” Merrill said. “They have very definite timetables for migration. They really are incredible birds.”
The greater sandhill cranes are known as the largest subspecies of sandhill cranes. They stand 4 1/2 to 5 feet tall and weigh about 10 to 14 pounds and are seen in varying shades of gray or a rusty brown hue. The cranes are usually found in wetland areas, open fields or meadows.
The other common subspecies of the sandhill crane that migrates in a smaller flock is the lesser sandhill crane, which is found in the Eastern part of Colorado and Nebraska.
Merrill explained that the cranes are typically first seen in the Hayden area near the Carpenter Ranch owned by the Nature Conservancy. Other places were people have routinely reported sightings include the Catamount Ranch & Club, near Stagecoach Lake and various areas in North Routt.
The sandhill cranes are normally seen in the western part of the county and go back to the same areas they’ve migrated to previously. They stay in areas where the weather is suited for them until the end of September.
The Yampa Valley Crane Festival will be held Sept. 10 to 14 this year and will feature crane viewing sessions, expert speakers, crane art, workshops, family activities, films, live raptors and more. Students will also have the opportunity to learn more about crane migration when CCCC volunteers present a special program on the topic at local elementary schools this spring.
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