Bird-watchers can gander at sandhill cranes during Uintah Basin migration

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is hosing down events to watch Sandhill Cranes in the Uintah Basin on October 1, 2022. Photo: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

JENSEN, Utah, Sept. 19, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is inviting birders to see and learn more about sandhill cranes as the birds migrate to the Uintah Basin.

Viewing events are scheduled for Saturday, October 1 from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at Jensen Nature Park, 8775 E. 6000 South and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the commuter lot at the intersection of US 40 and State Route 88 between Vernal and Roosevelt. The evening tour then continues to the Pelican Lake Crane Roosts and Ouray National Wildlife Refuge.

“Cranes flock to the Uintah Basin during migration and are very easy to spot in the fields,” said Tonya Kieffer-Selby, DWR Northeastern Region Chief of Operations. “They have a crimson crown and gray body and are one of the largest migratory birds in the world at around 1.20 m tall.”

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Those who live near open fields in the Uintah Basin are familiar with the loud, rattling call of large migratory birds. Sandhill cranes perform unique dance and courtship rituals, then select mates who perform best, according to DWR.

“They have loud voices that can be heard up to 2.5 miles away,” Kieffer-Selby said.

Participants must drive to the viewing areas themselves for the separate car tours, DWR officials said. Some binoculars and spotting scopes are available, but bird watchers are encouraged to bring their own gear.

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“In addition to your own vehicle, you should bring layers of clothing appropriate for the weather, as well as drinks, water and snacks,” Kieffer-Selby said. “Also, if you want to take good, quality photos, bring a telephoto lens for your camera.”

DWR officials say sandhill cranes are opportunistic feeders, feeding on plants, grains, insects, snakes and mice. This can be frustrating for farmers as the cranes can damage crops by digging up tubers and agricultural seeds.

“Changes in weather patterns can lead to a significant increase in the number of permanent residents in the region, particularly during the winter months,” Kieffer-Selby said. “This is of course excellent for bird watchers, but it can prove a nuisance for local farmers. We understand local farmers’ frustration with these birds.”

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Crop damage caused by cranes is one of the reasons state wildlife agencies have worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pacific Flyway Council to offer more permits for crane hunting in the area.

“In addition to the crane viewing, we hope the event will help educate the public about the importance of wildlife management,” said Kieffer-Selby.

While the viewing event is free, attendees are encouraged to register on Eventbrite in advance.

For more information on the viewing events, please contact the DWR Vernal office at 435-781-9453.

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