Sandhill Cranes At Whitewater Draw

You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full screen image.

Whitewater Draw is about 75 miles southeast of Tucson in a large valley that runs down into Mexico.  It is at a substantially higher elevation than Tucson and the surrounding terrain, many square miles of it, is grasslands rather than desert.  Whitewater Draw, a nature preserve open to the public, has ponds, marshlands, and some walking trails that run through part of it.


I went there last week in the company of a friend.  Our objectives included observing and photographing the wintering Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes are among North America’s largest birds.  An adult crane stands at least three feet tall and weighs about 10 pounds.  It has a six-foot wingspan.


In summer months these birds are residents of our northern plains and prairies.  In winters they head for points south.  The southeastern corner of Arizona is one of their preferred destinations.  Here, they gather in flocks that may hold several thousand birds.  They spend their mornings foraging in the agricultural fields and grasslands close to the Mexican border.  At about mid-day, however, they take wing and head back to Whitewater Draw.  Sometimes, the sky is dark with these birds as they head back to their preferred roosting areas.

They are magnificent fliers.  These big birds often fly in extremely tight formations, wingtip to wingtip, and yet, they seem never to collide with each other.  The cranes call constantly while in flight, emitting a honking sound that can be heard from miles away in the right conditions.  Sometimes one hears the birds before one can see them.


They are amazingly graceful in the air, flying in a kind of coordinated aerial ballet.


Adult birds have red blazes on their faces.  Youngsters lack the blazes.  Young Sandhill Cranes stick with their parents for several months after fledging.


Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm zoom lens+1.4x Telextender, aperture priority setting, all images at ISO 500.  The first image shot at f16 @ 1/500. The second and fifth images at f8 @ 1/800.  The third image at f8 @ 1/2500.  The fourth image at f8 @ 1/1000.

One response to “Sandhill Cranes At Whitewater Draw”

  1. tkiiatmindspringcom says :

    Cranes have to be among my favorite birds. Your pictures of cranes in flight are wonderful.

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