Festival of the Cranes | Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge | LasCruces.com

The evening air is crisp as the colors of sunset spread across the horizon in red, purple, pink, orange, and lavender. Everyone is scanning the horizon while listening for the distinctive bugling and honking of the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese returning from their day of feeding to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in San Antonio, New Mexico, just a dozen miles south of Socorro.

Sandhill cranes at bosque del apache national wildlife refuge
John Olson

Visitors to the refuge lift binoculars and cameras mounted with hefty lenses as the immense flocks of birds zigzag their way down to the marshy waters to settle in for the night. While there are always visitors at the refuge, many more will flock here December 6 – 9, 2023, for the 34th Festival of the Cranes, which celebrates the migration of the sandhill cranes and offers a wide range of educational workshops.

The sandhill cranes migrate from Canada to winter in the Rio Grande Valley. Both the cranes and snow geese begin arriving at the refuge in late October, with numbers reaching in the tens of thousands throughout the Rio Grande Flyway from late November to early December.

The Festival of the Cranes celebrates both the return of the sandhill cranes and the delicate ecosystem that supports them. People who care about the New Mexico environment meet to have fun outdoors, visit with like-minded people, learn about birding, and improve their photography skills.

During the festival, visitors can watch and photograph the many birds and other animals of the refuge between workshops on nature photography, hikes with expert guides, and environmental education presentations. In the Expo Room, visitors will dedicate time to test a range of cameras, binoculars, and scopes; examine collections of books and guides; and experiment with a range of related accessories. The Expo Room is open to the public from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. each day.

Registration opens to the public on October 11 and members can register a day or two earlier, depending on the type of membership they have. To view a catalog of all events and register, visit friendsofbosquedelapache.org/festival.

Kathy Imel


Some presentations on birding and environmental education are free. However, there are fees and limited space for most and you must register for any of the workshops. Outdoor experience classes take place at the refuge and classroom sessions take place at the Macey Conference Center at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. Two special night works will take place at the Very Large Array!


The Friends Dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, December 7, at the Macey Center. Keynote speaker Dr. Richard Beilfuss, president and CEO of the International Crane Foundation, will speak on the topic “Fifty Years of Crane Conservation.” Limited seating is available and tickets must be purchased in advance.


duck at bosque del apache national wildlife refuge
John Olson

The refuge and trails are open to all. The Tour Loop is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. The tour loop entry fee for private passenger
vehicles has been waived during the festival. All field workshops will be held outdoors at the refuge.

All indoor seminars will meet in Macey Center classrooms. During the festival, the visitor center and nature store will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Other Socorro County venues will host events during the festival. You may choose to see other parts of Socorro County, learn about its history, check out arts and crafts, or visit Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, about 40 miles north of Bosque del Apache NWR.

Festival of the Cranes
December 6 – 9, 2023
Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge and nearby locations


Story by Jackye Meinecke | Courtesy photos

Originally published in Neighbors magazine and updated in 2023

Posted by LasCruces.com

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