The Monte Vista Crane Festival is this weekend, March 11 – 13!

The grain fields of south-central Colorado’s San Luis Valley welcome multitudes of migrating sandhill cranes in the spring. These cranes make loud, rattling calls audible up to 2.5 miles away. As impressive as their calls are, the main draw for this popular festival is the sandhill’s elegant “dance.”

The dance of the cranes is performed by both sexes and consists of leaps and bows. A crane jumps into the air, extending its wings, in what looks like a celebration. It dips into a brief bow upon landing, bending over with its wings held out slightly, its head and neck contracting into an S-shape.

Dancing, a behavior that occurs in every species of crane, is a marvelous mystery. What exactly are cranes up when they dance? In sandhill cranes, a lot of dancing occurs during courtship and probably helps cranes forge their long-term pair bonds. But dancing also occurs outside of courtship. So, what explains all this “extra” dancing? Cranes may dance for a variety of reasons – to maintain bonds with their mates, to ward off other cranes that pose a threat, or to relieve stress. Perhaps, as when a cat bats at a toy mouse or a puppy wrestles with a companion, cranes are playing, jumping up and down for the sheer joy of it. Looks like fun to me!

Come to the Monte Vista Crane Festival to take some spectacular photos, celebrate the coming of spring, and commune with fellow birders with a passion for the wildlife of the West. See the dance of the sandhill for yourself and ponder the mystery.  Find events schedules and directions here.