Photo: Colorado Parks & Wildlife
This weekend, the Yampa Valley Crane Festival returns to Steamboat Springs for the fifth time to celebrate Greater Sandhill Cranes – a familiar and iconic sight in the Yampa Valley, where the distinctive birds can often be seen strutting around in its plentiful open fields and wet hay meadows.
The annual event draws birdwatchers from around the country who flock to Northwest Colorado every September, when the cranes begin to gather in “staging areas” before setting off on their southern winter migration.
Greater Sandhill Cranes, standing four feet tall with wingspans exceeding six feet, are the only crane species found in Colorado. Their hauntingly beautiful calls (“kar-r-r-r-o-o-o!”) ring through the Yampa Valley at many times of the year, a testament to the wealth of quality crane habitat in this region. YVLT aims to keep it that way, with land conservation helping to ensure their long-term viability in Northwest Colorado.
According to the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition (presenters of the YVCF), “[t]he primary nesting areas for the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes include Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Routt, and Rio Blanco Counties”. YVLT has conservation projects in four of those five counties; preserving valuable crane habitat, including critical nesting areas along the Yampa, Elk, and White Rivers that the birds depend on to raise their young. The YVLT-conserved Carpenter Ranch in Hayden, for instance (below), is one of the select locations where guided crane tours are taking place in conjunction with the Crane Festival.
A stretch of the Yampa at YVLT-conserved Carpenter Ranch, one of the event locations for the Crane Festival.
Although crane populations have remained relatively stable in recent years, cranes – like many species – are losing large blocks of their traditional grounds to ecosystem fragmentation and conversion. Willow-lined creeks, riparian areas, wetlands, irrigated hay meadows, and other water-based environments are critical for the cranes’ long-term survival, but these resources are limited in supply and quality crane habitat in Northwest Colorado is declining every year. Land conservation is paramount in sustaining crane populations throughout this region.
Have you ever attended the Yampa Valley Crane Festival?
Do you love cranes?
Support the organization dedicated to protecting these captivating creatures and their habitats across Northwest Colorado, and help us make sure these treasured birds will always have a home here in the Yampa Valley.