ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The seasonal snap in the air means a lot of things for the Albuquerque Metro area. Along with holiday plans solidifying and end-of-year travel getting booked, there’s once again the presence of five-foot-tall cranes in our fields and riverbanks.

Of the 11 crane species found around the world, it’s the sandhill crane that visits the Albuquerque area over the winter months. “The ones we have are normally seen in Canada, Montana, Idaho; we’re on that flight plan,” said Visitor Services Supervisor for the Albuquerque Open Space Division Bill Pentler. “They stay to flight plans that they were trained to fly by their parents.”

Cranes themselves are some of the oldest bird species on the planet. Pentler said there are crane fossils that are seven to nine million years old. “So, when you hear that rattling call as they’re flying, you’re hearing something almost prehistoric and truly unique, and it’s just a glorious thing to hear,” Pentler said.

The cranes come into the area about mid-October and stay until the beginning of March. During the day, the cranes can be found in the various open space areas in the city like Poblanos Fields north of Montaño, the agricultural fields in Corrales, areas in the South Valley like Valle de Oro, and the Open Space Visitor Center.

“During the day, they fly to farm fields and stuff and look for food,” said Pentler. “If the fields don’t have a lot of food, then they’re going to move to a different field.” In the evening, they’ll fly to the river where they’ll be able to hear predators approach when it’s dark.

While it’s fine to take photos of the sandhill cranes and even hunt them with the proper license (sandhill cranes are the only crane species that are not endangered), Pentler said to leave them be and don’t feed them. “Normally, if you go to fields and you start walking towards them, they’re all going to take off,” Pentler said. “They’re going to be nervous and not comfortable around people, and that’s the way they should be.”

Pentler also said, that in some areas, people have made a habit of feeding the cranes, which can make things dangerous for the cranes and people. “It follows through with any wildlife. We have people that will sadly feed coyotes. They want their nature moment, they want that close proximity, and what happens in situations – and this goes with cranes and coyotes – anything that you’re feeding…if you feed your animals outside and you leave the food outside, you’re going to draw in these animals and they’re going to get used to the continuous food that they’d normally have to fend for themselves on,” said Pentler.

He said this dependency on humans will backfire if and when the food supply from humans is taken away. “If it runs into someone who’s not expecting it, or has a dog or something else, then it becomes a problematic animal and it starts to follow trends that are unnatural for itself,” Pentler said.

And even though sandhill cranes eat just about anything – from snakes to rodents – the things humans eat really aren’t good for them. “Fat content, salt content, and everything else and you can go in a lot of different ways on something like that,” said Pentler.

Pentler, also an avid sandhill crane photographer, said a great spot to get some unique crane shots is to position yourself between the cranes and the river just before sunset. “So if you’re at Poblano Fields in the evening, if you see where there’s a flock in the field, you want to get to where the west side is at your back because that’s where the river is and see if you can line up where they’re going to fly over you to get to the river,” Pentler said.

The City of Albuquerque’s Crane Festival is a perfect place and time to celebrate everything crane-related. It’ll be happening Saturday, November 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Open Space Visitor Center at 6500 Coors Blvd NW. It’s a free event for the whole family and will feature free morning yoga classes, Tai Chi, and face painting.