Cranes Along the Winter Bosque

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

Sandhill Cranes in field, photo Denise Ames

Winter in Albuquerque, New Mexico is a sea of brown vegetation and bright blue skies. The sun warms, not scorches as it does in the summer, covering me with a penetrating comfort. I am not the only one who likes Albuquerque winters, the sandhill cranes and numerous other geese and birds flock here by the thousands for their winter get-away.

We are lucky to have trails that wind through the woods (bosque) bordering the wide and shallow Rio Grande (Grand River). Part of the New Mexico state park system, the area is home to a variety of wildlife.

Porcupine in tree (a little fuzzy) photo Denise Ames

On my last hike, I saw directly above me a porcupine nesting comfortably in a tall tree. On another hike I spotted an eagle perched on a branch overlooking the tranquil river. The crows were not happy with its presence and a cacophony of loud warning chirps wafted through the woods.

But the sandhill cranes are the real story of the bosque in the winter. Over 18,000 cranes fly in to Albuquerque like clockwork every year during the fall and winter months. They migrate here and up and down the Rio Grande to nest in the winter by the thousands. They must like cold. Their breeding grounds are in the higher latitudes—Alaska, Canada, Siberia, and northern US—but they seem to like Albuquerque and the Middle Rio Grande Valley, traveling thousands of miles from as far away as the Arctic Circle to reach our scenic environs.

They teeter around on spindly legs, but miraculously can grow up to four feet tall. With their long necks, and prominent beaks, they look like a pre-historic bird species. And indeed, they might be one of the oldest birds still alive. In Nebraska, where they also winter, a crane fossil estimated to be about 10 million years old was found to have the identical structure as the modern Sandhill crane. Presently, the Sandhill cranes visiting Albuquerque are not on the endangered list.

Although we just call them “the cranes,” their scientific name is Grus canadensis. They live to about 20 years old and mated pairs stay together for the year. They will start having young between two and seven years old. Sporting light gray feathers, they have a distinctive red patch around their eyes and above their beak.

The cranes were abuzz on our Saturday hike, February 13. A big cold front was moving in and the dark gray clouds had an ominous look and feel.

The forecast was for freezing rain, snow, and plummeting temperatures. But the cranes had their own built-in forecaster that sensed this change in weather and were anxious to take flight to a safer location. Their deafening honking conveyed their sense of urgency and distress. Hundreds of birds took to the skies, circling and swirling about before they formed a V-shaped flight pattern and headed north.

I was mesmerized by the cranes that morning, as they circled about in the skies before honing in on their destination. It seemed to take a while for them to stop their circling and chaotic swirling to fall behind a leader who seemed to know where he or she was going. What powers were guiding them I wondered?

I hope they come back. I will find out their status on Saturday, as I search for them grazing on the muddy islands dotting the middle of the Rio Grande. I only have a few more weeks with them. By the end of March, they have all departed. I will miss them.

Cranes on the Rio Grande

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 8 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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