Cranes are beautiful to watch and most people don’t know that they are the oldest living species of bird dating back 10 million years. And Greater Sandhill Cranes were part of Colorado’s prehistoric ecology for thousands, and perhaps millions, of years prior to the first appearance of humans. 

The Greater Sandhill Crane is an iconic species of the Yampa Valley, raising their young in wetland areas throughout the valley. And with more than two miles of private Elk River access, Marabou Ranch in Steamboat could be the place where you see them from your own backyard.

How will you know them? Greater Sandhill Cranes stand about 4.5-5 ft. tall with a 6-foot wingspan. Adult cranes have grey feathers, but during breeding season they “paint” them with iron-rich mud and vegetation turning themselves a rust color that helps with camouflage. One of their most beautiful features is a bright red skin patch on their foreheads, and the cry of the Sandhill crane is among the most distinctive sounds in the animal kingdom.

You may also recognize them from their dancing, which can easily be seen from our Colorado luxury ranches. Dancing contributes to pair bonding, and is a prelude to courtship, but cranes also dance, much like humans, when they’re excited, frustrated or just need to let loose. Parents teach their chicks, or colts, to dance, and young cranes practice dancing for years before selecting a mate.

To get back to their nesting home in the Yampa Valley, the birds follow invisible sky trails carved out by their ancestors over thousands and thousands of years—possibly nesting right next to your luxury ranch home in Steamboat, at Marabou.