Sandhill Cranes on Blue Valley Ranch
For the last 20 years, Blue Valley Ranch has worked to restore existing and create new wetlands, particularly along the Blue River corridor. As a result of that work, we have seen many aquatic and wetland species return to the river corridor that we had not seen regularly before. Just as exciting, however, are the migratory species that are seasonally attracted to both the wetlands along the river and the residual forages found in the hayfields and pastures on the benches above.
This small group of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) showed up in our waterfowl habitat this September and stayed for two days before moving on to wintering grounds in Northern Mexico and the Southern US. No doubt the energy-rich seeds of sedges and rushes provided a quick source of carbohydrates as the birds took a brief rest before continuing on their journey south.
There are six subspecies of sandhill cranes in the US. These are likely greater sandhill cranes, part of the Rocky Mountain population that stops in the San Louis Valley every spring and fall. Blue Valley Ranch is located in Middle Park, one of the four large Colorado basins that sit in a north-south orientation along the Central Mountain Flyway. This strategic location makes the ranch a convenient rest-over for migratory birds where they can find both food and shelter. Sometimes they stop in strange places, as these two birds below, who took a quick rest on Rabbit Ears Pass earlier this spring. They may have been headed to the Steamboat Springs area, as some crane pairs breed in northwest Colorado.
With the longest fossil record of any living bird, sandhill cranes have likely been flying over the Blue River for thousands of years. Hopefully, with improved habitat and preserved open space, we can make it worth their while to do so for a long time to come.