Alamosa/Monte Vista/Baca National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Mountain-Prairie Region
Fall Cranes
A Migratory Journer
Crane line artFood availability is a large factor in the distribution of cranes on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge during the spring and fall. During migration, cranes primarily feed on agriculture foods such as barley and grain, but they will supplement their diet with roots, seeds, invertebrates and small vertebrates found in wetlands. After fall barley has been harvested on privately-owned fields, cranes and other migratory waterfowl feed on the excess grain. Therefore, in fall, cranes are spread throughout the Valley taking advantage of this food source. After months of wildlife foraging on private fields little grain left for the subsequent spring. Grain fields on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) are not harvested in the fall but are cut in the spring to provide food for birds when it is more limited on private lands.

In general cranes are fairly habitual and predictable. Visitors aware of the cranes’ daily patterns can find good places to observe these birds.

Cranes feed in agricultural fields a half hour after sunrise to mid-morning (approximately 10 am) and again in the late afternoon (3:00 pm) to sunset. In spring most of the cranes forage on the farm fields of the Monte Vista NWR (see maps).

During mid-day (~10 am to 3 pm) cranes can be found primarily wet meadows and grazed pastures on and near Monte Vista NWR where they loaf and occasionally feed on roots, tubers, invertebrates and other food. Cranes will loaf in a variety of habitat types and do not always use areas with water. Mid-day cranes can be seen loafing throughout the Monte Vista refuge (see map). And long the west side of Stanley Road.

At night (sunset to sunrise) cranes use vegetation-free shallow water (less than one foot) to roost. Most roost sites are closed to the public, however, you can still see cranes fly in and out of roosts near sunrise and sunset (see map).

The tour route is open from sunrise to sunset (sunset = when the sun is no longer visible on the horizon). The refuge is strict in enforcing the sunrise to sunset rule because vehicle activity on the auto-tour route can disturb cranes as they are coming in to roost forcing them to find roost sites in the dark which can be hazardous.

Alamosa NWR receives less crane use than the Monte Vista NWR, however, use is increasing due to an increased small grain farming efforts east of the refuge. The observation area on the Bluff Overlook Drive may offer views of loafing cranes during mid-day and cranes leaving the roost sites in the morning and evening.

Last updated: October 5, 2012