The Attraction: Seeing Sandhill Cranes

Bird watching is a hobby requiring great patience, especially when tiny birds flick quickly from place to place or when larger birds are flying overhead and I have no idea what bird it is! So when I have an opportunity to see tall birds on the ground I am taking time to visit them. 

What is particularly interesting about these birds, sandhill cranes, is their daily routine; so once you know the coming and going at Whitewater Draw, McNeal, Arizona, with these birds it is fun to spend a day with them. They migrate to this area and stay October through to March.

When I visit, I typically arrive at the draw around 10:30am and watch the sandhill cranes return from the miles away local dry corn stubble they spent time eating for a morning meal. They’ll continue to arrive for the next 2 hours and then settle down or spend time preening. I discovered their stained feathers result from their muddy bills being in water with ferrous solution so while they preen their neck and back feathers become stained.

Around 4:30pm these tall wading birds with more than 6 foot wingspan will take off for their dinner meal and return as the sun sets. I estimated more than five thousand cranes were here and at other times the number will be much higher. Besides seeing them return in their v-shaped flock and individually land so they can roost here by this shallow water for the night, I was delighted to see a beautiful sunset.

I heard the bugling sound the birds make till 10pm and then all seems quiet until maybe 5:45am when some of the birds start to fly off for a morning meal. By the time I am awake and check on the birds almost 3/4 of the birds are gone and that was just after 6:15am. The sun rose a half hour later and still some cranes were hanging around. Later in the morning I left the draw. Enjoyed all 24 hours I was there as I observed the cranes, along with snow goose, northern shovelers, northern pintails and American coots. In the trees near the water’s edge you’ll see vermilion flycatchers, marsh wrens, black phoebes and I caught sight of a Cooper’s hawk, northern harrier. None of us could miss the yellow-headed blackbirds which I will write about in the next blog post.

Adult with red crown and white cheek patch.
You’ll see cranes off in the distance too.
Watching them drink water is interesting too.
Flying or landing … fascinating to watch.

5 thoughts on “The Attraction: Seeing Sandhill Cranes

  1. I love these long-legged and long-necked birds. The one we usually get to see in Latvia is the Common Crane and it’s always amazing to watch their nosy courting displays. Thanks for sharing and have a good day ☺️ Aiva

    1. How about the birds in Ireland? Many years ago I was 3 weeks in Ireland and do not remember birds? Of course, I am new to bird identification now, so maybe there were plenty of birds.

  2. Mary, there are the Rocky Mountain population of greater Sandhill Cranes in Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Routt, and Rio Blanco counties. Beautiful birds indeed! Check Sandhill Crane Festival Colorado 2022

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