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Getting a kick out of cranes

A group of sandhill cranes feed at the Open Space Visitor Center. (Courtesy of Kent Swanson)

You know winter is near when you spot sandhill cranes in New Mexico.

“Their habitats include grasslands, meadows, wetlands and they come from Alaska, Canada, western Quebec and some can travel as far as Siberia,” said Kent Swanson, manager of the Open Space Visitor Center. “They winter in the United States and northern Mexico so they’re on their path on they’re flight back. They spend the time here in New Mexico feeding over winter so they can migrate back in the springtime. They’re all tied into our mission of protecting the habitat for the crane and other species as well.”

Open Space Visitor Center commemorates the birds arrival with the Return of the Sandhill Crane Celebration. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16.

“The sandhill cranes are really remarkable in their natural history and they’re just incredible birds to watch and kind of iconic so we always like to celebrate their return,” Swanson said. “They’re one of the oldest species of birds in the world. It’s a really unique part of Albuquerque and reflects the importance of preserving habitats like the Rio Grande valley, the bosque, and in particular farmlands throughout the valley because that’s where the cranes like to feed in the open areas and agricultural fields. At the Visitors Center, we like to teach visitors about the ecology of the cranes, the importance of their habitats, and just appreciation of their cultural significance and environmental significance as well.”

The celebration will include a number of events including a guided nature walk at 8 a.m., Tai Chi with the Cranes with Sifu Dug Corpolongo, a bird meet and greet with Wildlife Rescue at 10 a.m.; Craneology 101 with Ariel Allen of Valle de Oro, storytelling, poetry and more. Maple Street Dance Space’s Ballet-Afrique Crane Dance Trio performs at 1 p.m.

“We will have trained naturalists who will be on site on our observation desks and on our back patio which overlooks about 18 acres of farmland,” Swanson said. “The naturalists are there to answer questions about the cranes to talk a little bit about their cultural history, natural history, and some of their behaviors.”

Viewing scopes will be available on the patio to take a closer view of the cranes and other species.

Guests can take a look at the exhibit “The Crane’s Oasis” by artist P.K. Williams in the main gallery and visit “A Book of Cranes” exhibit by multiple artists.

“Images of the crane have appeared on ancestral pueblo pottery and in petroglyphs as well so a lot of that imagery is very iconic and dates back to pre-Spanish colonial period so they really captured the imagination of artists and naturalists around the world and internationally the crane shows up a lot in Asian art and culture,” Swanson said. “They’re pretty remarkable.”

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