COCHISE COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Sandhill cranes are returning to the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, with the first birds arriving at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area earlier in October.
There are nearly 1,000 sandhill cranes in the area already, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
AZGFD officials estimated more than 23,000 sandhill cranes in the valley during the annual crane count conducted in January.
Whitewater Draw, which hosted some 15,343 birds during the count, usually has the largest number of cranes in the region.
Sandhill cranes fly out in a group at dawn to feed. Most of the cranes follow this feeding pattern, but some linger in or near their roosts. They gradually return from feeding between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Early October is when the cranes return from where they summered, many as far away as Siberia. Some birds will hang around until mid-February, leaving all at once in a large group, while others stay till the middle of March.
Sandhill cranes date back to the Pleistocene era and can have wingspans of up to six feet.