Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge area attracts sandhill cranes
The 14,800-acre Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley was born to attract sandhill cranes.
The refuge was created in 1952 by the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Commission in response to declining waterfowl habitat and to address conflicts on private land.
“There have been cranes in the valley for thousands of years, and for many years the valley had one of the highest densities of duck nesting anywhere,” said Pat Gonzales, deputy project leader for the Alamosa/Monte Vista/Baca National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “But when agricultural practices changed and we lost a lot of our surface water, we developed the (Monte Vista) refuge with its shallow impoundments as a refuge for migratory waterfowl.”
The move to center-pivot sprinklers drawing on underground reservoirs depleted many of the surface wetlands in the valley. Today, the refuge uses deep-level pumps to fill shallow ponds and create wetlands designed to attract and concentrate the thousands of birds once scattered around the 8,000-square-mile San Luis Valley.
“We drew the birds into this one area to create more opportunities for the public to see them and also to alleviate potential conflicts with local farmers,” Gonzales said. “In the spring the wetland comes alive with invertebrates and reptiles. Cranes are omnivores and will feed on wetland critters as well as a farmer’s newly planted corn.”
Sandhill crane watchers often can find several hundred cranes in the North Fork and Uncompahgre valleys during the birds’ spring stop-over in western Colorado.
Although the Eckert Crane Festival has dissolved, cranes continue to stop at Fruitgrowers Reservoir, a mile east of Eckert on Delta County Road N.00.
Cranes also have been reported on private land along G Road west of Delta.
Local birders regularly track crane sightings on the Western Slope Birding News, groups.yahoo.com/group/wsbn.