Crane Festival continues through this weekend

A crane spreads its wings in a field off U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 27 near Hayden in August 2022.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Yampa Valley Crane Festival is in full flight this weekend. The multi-day gathering kicked off Thursday and features dozens of events through Sunday.

The annual feather-friendly festival is sponsored by the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition every fall, when cranes gather in large numbers to feed and build up their energy before their migration south.

As usual, the lineup features numerous events in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Craig, including guided crane-viewings, bird and nature walks, expert speakers, films, crane and bird art, children and family activities, and more. For a full festival lineup, go to

One of the highlights will take place 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Friday as birder murder mystery author Steve Burrows will be at the Bud Werner Memorial Library to recap some of the material from his previous festival presentation in 2021 and discuss his recent trips to Antarctica, Singapore and Bhutan.

After the author’s talk, Buddy Huffaker of the Aldo Leopold Foundation will discuss the group’s work on the conservation movement, also at the Bud Werner Library. Huffaker is known for writing “A Sand County Almanac,” which has been translated into 16 languages and serves as one of the foundational texts for modern conservation efforts, according to Nancy Merrill, president of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition.

During his remarks from 12:30-1:15 p.m., Huffaker will provide a quick sketch of the work Aldo Leopold does and then focus on the people and events that have kept “A Sand County Almanac” relevant for 75 years.

“He was sort of the father of the modern conservation movement,” Merrill said.

On Saturday, Rich Beilfuss of the International Crane Foundation will serve as the festival’s keynote speaker. According to event organizers, cranes with their deep cultural connections, high visibility, extraordinary beauty, dramatic migrations and striking behaviors are flagships for conservation efforts across five continents.

In fact, festival organizers say cranes are among some of the most endangered families of birds in the world, and Beilfuss will share lessons learned over the last 50 years of conservation, as well as some of the innovative ways people might be able to help recover endangered crane populations.

Additionally, the presentation will look into what it might take to fully recover whooping cranes, whose population is currently estimated to be about 500-700 birds total. The situation is not nearly as dire for the sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado, but that doesn’t mean those cranes aren’t facing any threats themselves.

“Our sandhill cranes are doing pretty well, but there are still all kinds of threats from climate change, water issues, humans encroaching on their habitat, and that’s why we’re here to protect them,” Merrill said.

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