VERNAL, Utah (ABC4) – As the weather cools down now that autumn is officially here, what better way to enjoy the new season than spending time outdoors with wildlife?
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is hosting free viewing events to witness the majestic sandhill cranes in their natural habitat. The events take place this weekend on Saturday, October 2 with two free viewing events — one in the morning from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. and one in the evening from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Sandhill cranes are unique for their dancing and courtship rituals, says DWR. The dance can involve wing-flapping, bowing, and jumping. They might also throw a stick or some plants into the air, says the National Wildlife Foundation.
The large cranes have unique physical attributes that make them easy to spot. Typically, they have white cheeks with a bright red patch on their forehead. Their feathers are mostly gray, but can sometimes appear reddish-brown due to mud-rubbing when grooming their feathers.
Sandhill cranes also stand about three to four feet tall with a wingspan stretching over five feet, according to the National Wildlife Foundation. They also have a very distinctive call.
“They have loud voices that can be heard up to 2.5 miles away,” says Anthony Christianson, DWR Northeastern Region Events Coordinator.
Sandhill cranes like using their extra long legs as defense mechanisms, kicking their predator with wild strokes. Typically, these cranes lay two eggs in the spring, spend the first winter together with their baby, then separate the following spring.
Learn more about these special birds and witness them with your very own eyes at the free DWR event this Saturday, October 2. DWR will have binoculars and spotting scopes on hand but recommends bringing your own if you have them. While the viewing event is free, participants are asked to register for it on Eventbrite. Attendees will be driving to different viewing spots throughout the tour.
The first auto tour runs from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. Participants will meet at the Jensen Nature Park at 8775 E. 6000 South in Jensen and will later drive to fields near the Green River in Jensen.
The second auto tour runs from 5 p.m – 7 p.m. Participants will meet at the commuter parking lot at the intersection of Highway 40 and State Route 88 (the turnoff to the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge) located between Vernal and Roosevelt. The tour will then head to the cranes’ roosting grounds at Pelican Lake and the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge.
“You’ll have no problem identifying the cranes,” says Christianson. “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.”