The annual spring crane migration has peaked in the San Luis Valley but the wetlands remain alive with squawks, tweets, trills and songs in this birding paradise

Perhaps nothing signals the arrival of spring better than the homecoming of migratory birds. The San Luis Valley in the Monte Vista area is prime real estate for one gangly migratory avian. Flocks of sandhill cranes arrive in droves in March, with an estimated 23,000 to 27,000 birds descending to local barley fields across the valley and the wetlands in the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. While most of the cranes have headed north to nesting grounds, it’s still possible to see them in the fields and wetlands.

The Showcase Event
birding paradise
Tens of thousands of sandhill cranes arrive in the spring to the fields and wetlands of the San Luis Valley where they join a large variety of waterfowl and songbirds.Ed MacKerrow (

Standing 4 feet tall with a wingspan reaching up to 7 feet, this impressive bird is one of the oldest inhabitants of the area. And spring provides one of the best times to view it. Springtime mating dances and the “karrrooo” of their distinct call offer a ballet of sight and sound for birdwatchers.

“Spring offers a unique situation. The wetlands and barley fiends have been managed all year in an effort to attract the greatest amounts of cranes and the cranes have learned where the food is. It is typical to see five to six thousand birds in a single field at a time,” said Ruthanne Johnson, a committee member of the Monte Vista Crane Festival held in March of each year.

“To see cranes dancing and calling in the fields, is an amazing, even spiritual experience,” Johnson said. “When you add in the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, the event is absolutely breathtaking.”

If you miss the cranes this spring, try again in the fall when the fall migration is in full swing.

Other Birds

Viewing the cranes and other waterfowl like ducks, geese, coots, other waterfowl, and a variety of songbirds in the Monte Vista area is a perfect springtime endeavor. If you wish to get an up close and personal experience with the wild environment, now’s the time. 

Check out for more information about the festival, refuge and crane migration.

Notice from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding visiting the area during the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

During the current public health emergency, whenever possible, outdoor recreation sites at national wildlife refuges will remain open to the public.

For local conditions review the information on this website and call ahead.

If visiting one of our locations, please ensure public health and safety by following guidance from the CDC and state and local public health authorities. You can do this by maintaining social distancing, avoiding overcrowding and exercising good hygiene.”