While staying in Bisbee, we drove 25 miles east to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area one morning, hoping to see cranes. This unassuming wetland—a few trifling ponds bordered by scraggly mesquite—is one of the major winter homes for Sandhill Cranes.
Waiting For The Cranes
As many as twenty thousand Sandhill Cranes gather here at Whitewater Draw. That’s a lot of cranes. They spend their nights standing in the shallow waters (it’s their best bet for avoiding predators), and rise at sunrise in undulating waves to feed in nearby fields. At some point later in the day, they return.
Our chance of seeing cranes was good, but it’s not a given. We waited for more than an hour, enjoying observing a couple hundred Snow Geese, but almost giving up on the cranes.
Finally, one lone crane appeared. We waited longer. And then, almost imperceptibly, a dark cloud of pencil dots appeared on the horizon, followed by another cloud, and then another. Within thirty minutes, wave after wave of cranes descended onto the refuge.
Over a period of an hour or two, the ponds and shoreline were blanketed with thousands of these beautiful creatures, standing close together as they preened, slaked their thirst, and socialized.
Standing four-feet tall with a wingspread of seven feet, these elegant gray-feathered, crimson-capped birds are an unforgettable sight, even more so en masse. If you go to Whitewater Draw, plan to be there between November and February. After that, the cranes depart, heading north to nest and raise their young.