Sandhill Cranes, A Cacophony of Sounds

Of the Fifteen species of Cranes found worldwide, two species inhabit the United States, the Whooping and Sandhill Cranes. Arizona is host to three different subspecies of Sandhill Cranes that spend the winter in Arizona. They consist of a smaller variety that migrates down from the Canadian Arctic and Siberia, medium-sized ones from the Yukon territory in northern Canada, and a large type that breeds and spends its summers in the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

Once you’ve witnessed the arrival of these large vocal birds you’ll be back again and again to marvel at the sheer number of Cranes that stay over October thru February, leaving for nesting territories farther north in Late February and early March. An estimated 20,000 over winter here.

Both Whitewater Draw in McNeal, Arizona and the Wilcox Playa area are great places for viewing these remarkable birds. A bonus is the number of other waterfowl that share space with the Cranes: ducks such as Green Winged Teal, Shovelors, Wigeons, ring-necked, redheaded and other dabbling Duck species.  Wading birds like Rails and Soras, Kildeer, Yellow-legs, dot the ponds edges looking for food.  Great Horned Owls, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed, Cooper’s, Sharp Shinned Hawks and Kestrels patrol the wetlands.   Loggerhead Shrikes, Western Meadowlarks, Ground Doves, Vermillion Flycatchers, Say’s and Black Phoebes are plentiful. Snow Geese flocks mingle amongst the Cranes. And, there appear from time to time Golden and Bald Eagles.

Whitewater Draw has a series of handicapped accessible walkways surrounding several field-flooded wetlands.  There are a couple of viewing stations but it’s best to bring your own chair if you need to sit as benches are limited.  Parking is available, and there is a bathroom facility at the site. 

Best viewing is just before dawn when the birds alight to fly to feeding grounds.  Trust me you’ll get an earful of sound.  The birds return around 11:00 am flying in wave after wave to rest before feeding again before sundown.  Don’t miss this unique opportunity to observe the thousands of Cranes who make Arizona a destination!

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