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A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

My husband John is a very good sport about joining me on adventures, whether they interest him or not. Fortunately most do. But like any marriage there needs to be give and take so since he is an avid birder I agreed to several hours at Whitewater Draw, a globally important bird area in southern Arizona. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds and have a good eye for new species. But I don’t have nearly the patience to watch them for hours the way he does. At least with sandhill cranes there is no mistaking their presence and you don’t have to wait for them to flush from the bushes.

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

Whitewater Draw is classified as a globally important bird area

Whitewater Draw for Sandhill Cranes

We had traveled to Cochise Stronghold, almost due east of Tucson to hike in the Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains. With extra time we were able to fit in a trip to Whitewater Draw. It’s about an hour’s drive south of Wilcox, the largest town of note in the area. Finding Whitewater Draw wasn’t obvious. It was almost as though they didn’t want hordes of people showing up. We saw perhaps another half dozen people when we visited.

Sandhill cranes usually begin to arrive in the area in October and most of leave by mid-February to mid-March. According to an article in the Arizona Range News “the Arizona Game and Fish Department estimated more than 23,000 sandhill cranes in the valley earlier this year, with the largest concentration of 15,343 at Whitewater Draw”.

Usually cranes hit the skies at dawn to feed on grain from farmer’s fields and return somewhere between 11 and 4 PM. I don’t know how many sandhill cranes were in attendance when we visited around noon, but whatever their numbers it was a sight to see them en masse squawking away.

A few interesting facts about sandhill cranes:

  • Sandhills are the most common of the cranes.
  • The average lifespan in the wild is 20 years.
  • Cranes have a five to six foot wingspan and weigh between 3 – 6.3 kilograms.
  • Visit Nebraska’s Platte River in spring if you want to see as many as 50,000 cranes at one time.
  • It can get very noisy during mating season when pairs vocalize.
  • Sandhill cranes live in freshwater wetlands.
  • Food ranges from plants to mice, snakes, worms and insects. Grain is also part of their diet and they’ve been known to cause significant damage to farmer’s fields.
A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

Smart birders bring their big lenses

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

Sandhill cranes en masse

Catching the Sandhill Crane Migration at Whitewater Draw

You may hear the sandhill cranes before you see them

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

Catching a few sandhill cranes in flight

When you’ve had enough of watching the cranes take a walk on the trails in the area, especially around the ponds and you’ll see a very large number of bird species.

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

There are plenty of other interesting birds nearby including this roadrunner

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

I always have a smile on my face when I see a family of quail

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

With lots of ponds there are also interesting ducks

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona

A pair of Northern shovelers

Other posts related to our trip to this part of southern Arizona you might like:

A Trip to see Sandhill Cranes in southern Arizona - Whitewater Draw is where you find the greatest concentration of them

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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