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Record 40,499 Sandhill cranes counted in southern Arizona

13/02/2010 14:50:58
birds/2010 jan/sandhill_cranes_usfws

Arizona has enjoyed record numbers of Sandhill cranes in 2010. Photo credit USFWS

February 2010. The Sulphur Springs Valley in Arizona attracted a record 40,499 wintering Sandhill cranes, providing a fantastic wildlife watching opportunity in southern Arizona this year.

“In 2008 this agriculturally-rich valley in southern Arizona drew a record 36,708 Sandhill cranes. This year circumstances and conditions conspired for this 80-mile-long valley to attract thousands more of these magnificent large birds,” said Mike Rabe, the Arizona Wildlife Department’s migratory game bird program manager.

6 feet tall and 8 foot wingspan
Sandhill cranes are some of the largest birds in North America and have a wingspan of six to eight feet across, allowing them to fly and soar up to 100 miles in a single day in their quest for food. Huge V-shaped flights of Sandhill cranes plying the skies provide a thrilling sight for wildlife viewers. When standing on the ground, adult Sandhills can reach six feet tall.

“Experiencing the morning Sandhill crane launch at the department’s two wildlife areas, especially Whitewater Draw, is truly spectacular. Witnessing the cranes return to roost at these wildlife areas can be equally spectacular, especially during one of Arizona’s brilliant sunsets,” Rabe said.

Although the cranes come to feed on the abundant grain crops in this broad desert valley near the border with Mexico, the Game and Fish Department’s properties – Whitewater Draw and the Willcox Playa wildlife areas – provide essential roosting grounds.

Rabe surmised that one of the contributing factors leading to increased numbers of Sandhill cranes in Arizona is the lack of planted corn at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley 70 miles south of Albuquerque. Thousands of cranes that typically winter at Bosque probably flew to Arizona this year instead.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area
The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s 1,500-acre Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area attracted a record 33,533 Sandhill cranes this year. The property’s acquisition in 1997 was made possible by the Heritage Fund, which is in jeopardy of being swept to balance the state budget.

More than 600 acres of the Whitewater Draw is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat that provide feeding and roosting opportunities for species such as cranes, waterfowl, doves, hawks and owls as well as numerous terrestrial wildlife species including deer, collared peccary and Chiricahua leopard frogs.

The Sandhill cranes typically remain in Arizona until the end of February or early March before heading back north to their breeding grounds. If you miss them, the cranes return in November or December.

Crane viewing: The crown jewels of the Sulphur Springs Valley are the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and Willcox Playa Wildlife Area, both of which area operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department to provide habitat for waterfowl and Sandhill cranes plus wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities.

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