Sandhill Crane ⋆ Tucson Audubon Skip to content

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes are long-legged, long-necked, gray, heron-like birds with a patch of red skin top of their head.

Sandhill Crane

Antigone canadensis


Sulphur Springs Valley, Whitewater Draw

Fun Facts

The earliest Sandhill Crane fossil, estimated to be 2.5 million years old, was unearthed in the Macasphalt Shell Pit in Florida.

Do me a favor, this winter treat yourself to experiencing the amazing spectacle and sound of the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that congregate in the Sulphur Springs Valley. You won’t be disappointed. These large, elegant wading birds are in Southeast Arizona October through March, and can be found in large numbers at their nightly roosting sites on shallow water bodies before they take off for the day to feed. The best spots for viewing are Whitewater Draw, Willcox Lake, and the Apache Station viewing area—the birds usually have a mass lift-off right around sunrise and then slowly meander back from feeding in the nearby agricultural fields around noon. This is so much fun to experience that the Wings Over Willcox festival (annually in January) was created to celebrate the cranes!

Sandhill Cranes are tall, uniformly gray, and have a brilliant red forehead, but it’s the bugling call that will probably draw more of your attention. It’s a sound that can be heard for miles, alerting you to their presence high above in the sky and overwhelming you when they gather in large numbers on the ground. They are also known for their exuberant dancing skills, with moves such as wing stretches, head bows and pumps, vertical leaps, and the vertical vegetation toss. Though dancing is associated with courtship, it occurs year-round and can spread throughout a flock like contagious fun. Now that is a sight to see!

Written by Matt Griffiths