The Monte Vista Crane Festival March 6-8 will celebrate the arrival of some 25,000 sandhill cranes on their annual stopover in the San Luis Valley.
“Their remarkable journey begins in southern New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and ends in the crane’s nesting grounds around the Yampa Valley, Greater Yellowstone area and even further north for some of the longer-traveled birds,” crane festival committee President Jenny Nehring said in a press release.
Now in its 37th season, the crane festival is one of the oldest birding festivals in the country and the oldest in Colorado, Nehring said.
Along with cranes, visitors can spot other wildlife, including owls, eagles, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyote and a variety of other birds and raptors.
Cranes gather by the thousands in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, which manages its habitat to attract birds and other wildlife. Refuge staff plant barley in surrounding fields and mow them just before the festival. Cranes gather in newly mowed areas to feed on fallen grain and small animals attracted to the food.
At night, wetlands provide roosting sites that help protect cranes from predators, refuge manager Suzanne Beauchaine said.
The festival includes expert-led crane- and hawk-viewing tours, trips to unique natural areas in the San Luis Valley, wildlife presentations, nature movies and a kids’ coloring contest.
There’s also a craft and nature fair with nature-oriented birdhouses, jewelry, wood carvings, quilts, photography and paintings.
Other local activities include a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park, downhill skiing at Wolf Creek Ski Area, beer tasting at one of several local breweries, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking and hot springs.
Nehring said festival tours, speakers and local accommodations typically sell out fast. For schedule and ticket information, visit mvcranefest.org.