Kelly Vaughn

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) are lithe, elegant creatures — so much so that naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote about “their nobility, won in the march of eons.” Their call, though, is anything but elegant. Rather, it’s akin to what a screeching bugle from some Jurassic pterosaur might have sounded like. So, when the cranes descend on Southeastern Arizona between October and March each year, birders revel in their beauty while chuckling at their cacophony. Two of the best places in Arizona to see sandhill cranes are Whitewater Draw, northeast of Douglas, and Willcox Playa, near Willcox. In both locations, the red-headed wonders take off around sunrise and return midday, after spending the morning feeding on insects, lizards, aquatic plants, rodents and snakes. Known for their dancing skills, the cranes bow their heads, stretch their wings and leap gracefully as part of their courting ritual. And when it works, the birds mate for life.