Over 40,000 migratory sandhill cranes fly to southeastern Arizona

Jan 17, 2024, 4:05 AM | Updated: 5:22 am

PHOENIX — Bird watchers are in for a treat this year, according to an announcement the Arizona Game and Fish Department sent last week.

The department estimates 42,200 migratory sandhill cranes are now in southeast Arizona for the fourth straight year.

That’s well above five- and ten-year averages, Arizona Game and Fish said.

They come to Arizona, along with New Mexico and Colorado, during the winter months so they can feed in marshlands and wetlands that haven’t frozen over from the cold.

Where to see the migratory sandhill cranes

Some of the best places to watch the birds are at Cochise Lake south of Willcox and the APECO Apache Generation Station in Cochise.

Arizona Game & Fish conducted its annual sandhill crane count last week, which identified some of the birds’ most popular spots:

– Willcox Playa, with the largest concentration of birds: 24,426.
– AZGFD’s Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal, which has 13,789 cranes.
– The valley between the towns of Safford and Duncan, with 3,725 birds.
– The Bonita community, which is where 260 cranes are.

Sandhill cranes can be easy to spot, as they fly at altitudes higher than one mile and have loud calls that can be heard from over two miles away, according to Purdue University. Their calls make a distinctive rattling bugle sound.

AZGFD said groups of cranes fly out at dawn to feed on grain from farmer’s fields. However, most of the cranes return to their roosts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There’s a limited time to see the cranes, as most arrive between mid-September to early October. The migratory sandhill cranes typically leave in mid-February. Sometimes, they’ll depart all at once.

There’s also a chance some of the cranes may stay until March, though. They’ll leave to return to their breeding sites in northern states like Alaska and Canada.

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Over 40,000 migratory sandhill cranes fly to southeastern Arizona