Big birds take stage at Wings Over Willcox

Posted on by az100

by Ron Dungan – Jan. 6, 2012 02:00 PM
The Republic |

Wings Over Willcox began 19 years ago with a focus on sandhill cranes. About 30,000 of these large, loud migrators gather in southern Arizona each winter, and a group of local people thought it would be nice to have a festival to mark the occasion.

Since then, the festival has grown to include seminars, hikes and tours on a variety of subjects, from birding to geology. This year, the festival is an official Arizona Centennial event.

“It’s just grown. It’s become so popular,” said Connie Bonner, a spokeswoman for Wings Over Willcox. Although the cranes are a big draw, birders are attracted to the area because they could find a wide variety of birds, Bonner said.

“It took off,” she said. “There are a lot of birds here. People come here all winter to look at birds.”

The event has grown to include seminars that have nothing to do with birds. Among this year’s sessions are discussions of archaeology, dragonflies, history, photography, wine and dining. Some tours are already sold out, but others are still available. And there’s plenty to do. Don’t miss the nature expo, which will include owls, hawks and snakes.

“There are a lot of things going on that you can do for free. Then we have seminars going on all week, and those are also free,” Bonner said.

The nature expo is kid friendly, and children can learn how to build nesting boxes. “It’s a great family event,” Bonner said.

The keynote speaker, Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine, will talk about birding at night.

Floyd has written more than 125 articles for such scholarly journals as Ecology, Oecologia, Animal Behaviour, Journal of Animal Ecology and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. He also has written for Natural History and Birdwatcher’s Digest.

Although the festival has grown to include many aspects of the natural world, it’s still a great opportunity to see sandhill cranes. Some crane tours are still available. Participants will have the chance to observe cranes at sunrise, when the birds move to their feeding grounds.

“They take (participants) out to see the liftoff,” Bonner said. “It is supposed to be the most spectacular thing you’ve ever seen.”

Besides being a spectacular sight at a nice time of day, the birds make a lot of racket as they move. The Willcox Chamber of Commerce can help anyone who does not sign up for a tour locate a likely spot to view the big birds, which have wingspans of 6 feet or more.

Even during the day, the cranes make themselves known.

“We hear them all the time flying over,” Bonner said. “You can hear them all the time, making all kinds of noise. It’s pretty amazing.”

Reach the reporter at 602-444-4847 or

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