Photo by Charles Sterling

The Bosque del Apache’s Festival of the Cranes is one of the most spectacular wildlife events in North America. Every year, thousands of cranes and other migratory birds flock to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, located in central New Mexico. Although the cranes begin arriving in mid-October, their numbers peak on the refuge in late November and early December, making this the perfect time for the annual Festival of the Cranes.

When is the Festival of the Cranes this Year?

Be sure to mark your calendars for 2023 – this year the festival will be taking place a bit later in the season, from December 6-9. You will be among visitors from all over the world, enjoying a fantastic opportunity to learn about the importance of migratory birds and the endangered ecosystems they inhabit, as well as the critical conservation efforts taken to protect them. The festival also supports the local community of Socorro, as it brings in a significant amount of tourism revenue. Registration will open in the autumn of 2023. (For early bird access to festival tickets, be sure to join theOASIS, our sustaining community of Hope!)

What is Festival of the Cranes?

Sanhill cranes bugling in the morning light - a celebration of festival of the cranes in Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Photo by Jonathan Dowell

This festival is a must-see event for bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, and photographers. Visitors have many option to choose from, including ornithologist led bird tours and walks, photography workshops, and educational presentations and tours by experts in the field. In recent years, mindful birding and forest bathing workshops have been offered to introduce participants to the healing and supportive aspects of bird watching, and simply being in the presence of nature. Visitors can witness the breathtaking sight of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese taking flight in the early morning, creating an awe-inspiring experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Bosque del Apache, an Oasis in the High Desert

Sunrise on Bosque del Apache with a flock of sandhill cranes flying above during festival of the cranes in Bosque del Apache

Photo by Barbara Magnuson, 1st Place Landscape Winner, 2021

The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge covers 57,331 acres and is home to over 400 species of birds including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, blue herons, great horned owls, redtailed and northern harrier hawks, and an amazing assortment of ducks and other waterfowl. The refuge also has a diverse range of animals, including mule deer, mountain lion, coyote, and javelinas, making it an ideal destination for wildlife photographers and enthusiasts.

All of these creatures rely on the wetlands habitats the refuge staff work ceaselessly to maintain and protect. Before the Rio Grande was “tamed” by human beings, it naturally overflowed its banks, replenishing the soils that support a wide variety of food sources for the migratory birds and other wildlife.

What sets Bosque del Apache apart from other places people can enjoy the sandhill cranes are its breathtaking landscapes. No other place in the country offers the stunning mountain backdrops, woodlands, and wetlands that are so painstakingly preserved. New Mexico is famous of its sunrises and sunsets, which are reflected upon the surface of the cranes’ roosting ponds with colors that are often other-worldly. Although the sandhill flock disperses throughout the Middle Rio Grande Valley each winter, Bosque del Apache – the landscape itself – deeply touches the soul and lifts the spirits of the hundreds of thousands of people who seek refuge in its beauty.

Where does Festival of the Cranes Take Place?

The Friends of Bosque del Apache partners with the refuge and produces this annual celebration as part of its nonprofit mission to educate the public and create opportunities to build community. The majority of in-the-field workshops take place on the refuge in San Antonio, New Mexico. In 2022, the Friends began partnering with New Mexico Tech located in Socorro to take advantage of their WARM classrooms and state of the art auditorium and meeting areas.

Bosque del Apache NWR
1001 NM-1, San Antonio, NM 87832

New Mexico Tech Macey Center
801 Leroy Pl, Socorro, NM 87801

Where to Stay

If you live in the Albuquerque area, the Festival of the Cranes is an easy drive south – just an hour’s drive to Socorro, and another 20 minutes to the refuge entrance in San Antonio, New Mexico.
For folks in search of overnight lodging, both Socorro and San Antonio have B&B’s and several Airbnb listings. A variety of hotels, including pet-friendly options, can be reserved in Socorro. Many of these options are fully booked months in advance, so be sure to make your plans early!

Come Celebrate With Us!

sanhill cranes roost in the morning light of Bosque del Apache NWR

Photo by Pam Dorner

In conclusion, the Festival of the Cranes Bosque del Apache is a unique and unforgettable experience for anyone who loves nature and wildlife and wishes to protect them for future generations. It is a celebration of the return of the sandhill cranes, as well as a celebration of the beauty and awe they inspire within us. If you find yourself in New Mexico in early December this year, be sure to place the Festival of the Cranes on your bucket list!

Here are your dates again:

December 6-9, 2023
Registration opens this autumn
Join theOASIS for early bird access to registration – many workshops will sell out quickly.

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