Saturday, December 4, 2010

Whitewater Draw Sandhill Crane Visit

I traveled to Whitewater Draw near McNeil Arizona to see what was up with the Sandhill Cranes that migrate here each year. This was my fourth trip to the area this year with each one filled with Sandhill sightings. Just as I arrived a small plane circled low over the roosting area and a large number of the birds took flight and headed towards Willcox. For the next hour and a half the birds continued to head off to feed in the fields or perhaps to Apache Station. The numbers dwindled until there were no cranes visible from my location. As soon as the last cranes had flown away others began to return which was around 10:30 A.M.. There were allot more people here on this trip, as many as ten cars including one large group of about 10 people. Usually it's very quiet with little if any other activity.
As the birds returned most of them joined the large group but there were a few that landed in the first pool which I find interesting as cranes find comfort in numbers and usually stay together for safety. Fortunately this pool is closer and allows for a more up close view of the birds.

As time when on the Sandhills returned in flocks of varying size from a few birds to one that I estimate contained a thousand or more. As I have discussed before the cranes fly in formations that are not as defined as geese but they do seem to have a coordinated plan and larger flocks tend to break into smaller groups as they approach landing. There are times in flight that the formations disappear into momentary chaos but the birds reassemble and continue without much trouble.
While I was there the smaller flock roosting in the first pool grew to several dozen birds, a few at a time. Just before I left for the drive back to Tucson about half of the birds suddenly flew up and joined the larger group.

I have been listening closely to the vocalizations of the cranes which go from a quiet low guttural sound to a more boisterous vocalization when an individual thinks their space has been violated, to the calling that takes place between groups on the ground and flying birds. They have quite a range of communication skills.


  1. I've never seen sandhill cranes. a very nice spot it looks like for some great looks.


  2. I am impressed they are pairs for life! I had a couple of pairs that were always around the place when I lived in Gibsonton, Florida.