Cranes in the ‘hood
If you think sandhill cranes are found only in pristine wildlife sanctuaries, you might need to get out of the house more.
A flock of approximately 20 cranes is spending the winter chowing down at a swampy Northeast Heights mud flat. Above stand high tension wires.
Rimmed by phantasmagoric graffiti and abandoned foundations, this apocalyptic habitat lies along the North Diversion Channel between Paseo del Norte and Osuna NE.
Think of a backdrop for the movie “The Road.”
Not only is the site devoid of charm, it won’t be found in any guidebook. But the cranes, who can be viewed here most late mornings, seem happily oblivious to the stark, semi-industrial setting.
“Cranes are very opportunistic feeders,” said Diana Iriarte, a biologist technician at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near San Antonio, N.M.
Iriarte said this year, opportunities are especially sought out. The Bosque Refuge normally provides a lot of corn in the winter for the cranes, who begin to arrive in October and depart in late February or early March. But the corn crop at the Bosque del Apache has suffered this season.
“Our farmers had a hard year, and we had a pest problem,” Iriarte said.
Thus, the cranes have been looking elsewhere, as they begin their migration north.
“If they had been feeding on corn, they might now switch and go after bugs,” Iriarte said. “They will pretty much eat anything: earthworms, beetles, grubs. Who knows what they might be finding up there.”
John Vradenburg, Bosque del Apache’s supervisory biologist, says the problem is not serious and people shouldn’t worry, “Our number of birds was down a little, about 6,000 to 8,000 on average. But the cranes aren’t in danger. They were adjusting their wintering habits.”
At the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex, in Bernardo, also in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the number of cranes is up this year.
“The corn crop there was really good,” Vradenburg said.
Iriarte said that New Mexico has received more rain than usual this winter, so that might have changed the cranes’ distribution routes.
“They could be coming from the Bosque or from other state areas or from Mexico.”
Iriate said the cranes at the North Diversion Channel likely roost on the Rio Grande, a couple of miles to the west.
Contact Toby Smith