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The migration of the sandhill cranes is a majestic annual event that occurs in early March in Colorado, sweeping north across the United States through Nebraska’s Sandhills along the Platte River, across the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, into Canada to nesting grounds in the far north. Some even cross the Bering Straits every spring and fall, en route to and from nesting grounds in Siberia.

The next three to four weeks is the best time to view the migrating sandhill and whooping cranes in Colorado, and their migration through the San Luis Valley is a popular nature attraction. Aside from take-offs and landings at the beginning or end of their days of travel,  these high-fliers normally travel at altitudes of 6,000 to 7,000 ft.

The beauty of seeing hundreds of thousands of these graceful birds swooping in from the south, settling on the ponds on the migration path, feeding, and taking off is unforgettable. No matter where along the migration path you may be traveling, seeing them is a thrill.

Sand Hill Crane. Photo by Marc Meyers for Unsplash

While you may only be traveling to (finally) visit Grandma, these birds are long-haulers. Riding thermal air currents, they travel 25 to 30 miles per hour, and they often travel 200 to 300 miles per day. With a good tailwind, some have been tracked as traveling 500 miles in a single day.

Both sandhill and whooping cranes are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918. This law strictly prohibits the capture, killing, or possession of sandhill and whooping cranes without proper permits.

While the sandhill cranes follow their migration route on their own schedule, the communities along the route normally set actual dates for their celebrations. This year, for instance, the official celebration of the crane migration on the popular Monte Vista NWR tour has had to be moved online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

What would normally be large, in-person gatherings has been shifted to an online festival. The online Monte Vista Crane Festival is set for 7:00 p.m. on March 12. More information about the festival is available here

To stimulate interest in the graceful bird that has become a symbol of their community, Monte Vista has created the “Swoop of Cranes” installation event; a community art and city beautification project. Citizens and businesses are sponsoring five-foot steel crane silhouettes that will be changed from a steel blank to an artist’s creative rendition. The completed renditions will be attached to light poles in town; going up in town from mid to late March through August.
Featured image: Sand Hill Cranes coming in to land at sunset. Photo by John Duncan for Unsplash