VERNAL — If you live near a field in the Uinta Basin, you’re no stranger to the loud, rattling call of the sandhill cranes that migrate through and call the area home. But if you have never seen or heard one of these large birds, your opportunity is coming up!
You can see the birds — and learn more about them — on Saturday, Sept. 28 as the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and its local partners host a sandhill crane viewing event. This year, the free event features two different auto tours.
The first auto tour runs from 7 – 9 a.m. at the Jensen Nature Park at 8775 E. 6000 South in Jensen. Dinosaur National Monument biologists and staff will have spotting scopes and binoculars available so you can see cranes in fields near the park. They can also answer any questions about sandhill cranes and direct you to additional viewing areas.
“You’ll have no problem identifying the cranes,” DWR regional conservation outreach manager Tonya Kieffer-Selby said. “They have a crimson crown and gray body, and at about 4 feet tall, they’re one of the largest migratory birds in the world.”
The second viewing event takes place from 5-7 p.m. The auto tour will leave the Uintah County Library at 204 E. 100 North in Vernal and will head to the crane’s roosting grounds at Pelican Lake and the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge.
“Bring your own vehicle, clothes you’re comfortable wearing outside, binoculars if you have them, and drinks, water and snacks,” Kieffer-Selby said. “Also, if you want to get good, quality photos, bring a telephoto lens for your camera.”
Sandhill cranes are unique birds. They perform unique dancing and courtship rituals and then choose mates that perform the best. The birds typically lay two eggs in the spring, and the parents and juveniles spend the first winter together and then separate the following spring.
“They have loud voices that can be heard up to 2.5 miles away,” Kieffer-Selby said.
Cranes use their extra long legs as defense mechanisms, often kicking violently when attacked and threatened by predators. During the winter months, the cranes flock to fields, pastures, grasslands and wetlands before returning to roost along riverbanks and shallow lakes at night.
These birds are opportunistic eaters, grazing on plants, grains, insects, snakes and mice. For farmers, this can be frustrating, as the cranes can damage crops by digging up tubers and agricultural seed.
“Changes in weather patterns may mean a significant increase in the number of birds that become permanent residents of the area, especially in the winter months,” Kieffer-Selby said. “This of course is excellent for bird watchers, but can prove to be troublesome for local farmers. We understand the frustration local farmers have with these birds.”
The crop damage the cranes cause is one of the main reasons the DWR has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pacific Flyway Council to offer hunting permits in the Uinta Basin.
“In addition to viewing cranes, we hope the event will help teach the public about the importance of wildlife management,” Kieffer-Selby said.
While the viewing event is free, participants are asked to register for it on Eventbrite.
For more information about the sandhill crane event, contact the DWR Vernal office at 435-781-9453.