The Expo Room will be inside the Bosque del Apache Visitor Center during the Festival of the Cranes.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain

This fall and winter, the wetlands of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge will teem with sandhill cranes, snow geese and other migrating birds by the thousands.

Along with the wintering birds, the Festival of the Cranes will return in person Dec. 1-3, after two years of being virtual only.

Now in its 33rd season, the Festival of the Cranes, organized by Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, is a celebration of birding and wildlife in general at the refuge. Friends Executive Director Deb Caldwell is looking forward to the return to normal.

“The festival has always been a time to welcome back old friends — people and the winter flock — and meet new ones,” Caldwell said. “I’ve heard people remark that this refuge opens their heart and touches their soul. There’s magic here — something to see, learn and experience on every trip to Bosque del Apache — and at Festival of the Cranes, we make that even easier for you.”

Staying true to form, festival workshops will focus on photography, birding and environmental education, augmented by hikes and a bit about the area’s history.

“Several of our most popular presenters from years past are slated to return to offer education and up-close viewings of wildlife,” Caldwell said. “I’ve seen so many visitors to Bosque del Apache be mesmerized by the beauty of what they see, not just at Festival of the Cranes, but throughout the year. The morning fly out of the cranes and geese from the wetlands in winter is stunning and melodious, but there is a quiet beauty at other times of the year as well. This truly is a refuge for all seasons.”

As usual, all field workshops will be held at the refuge. One exception is that the popular Expo Tent will move indoors to become the Expo Room, featuring photography and birding companies, environmental organizations and a booth by Friends of Bosque del Apache.

In another change for this year, all indoor seminars will meet in Macey Center classrooms at New Mexico Tech, which, organizers promise, will keep the event COVID-safe and ADA compliant while providing instructors with more reliable internet connections for their presentations.

Sandhill crane
File photo

“Though the Friends of Bosque del Apache are the main organizers of Festival of the Cranes, it takes a lot of collaboration with the refuge, New Mexico Tech, the City of Socorro and our many partners in conservation, birding, photography and local history to pull it off,” she said.

The Wildlife Zone on Saturday, Dec. 3, is also moving to the Tech campus with raptors, reptiles and prairie dogs up close, and is still free.

“Many of our partners will join us to showcase rehabilitated wildlife, share activities or paint your face to resemble your favorite wild animal,” Caldwell said. “We’ll also host live music during portions of the day.”

Registration for the seminars and activities begins Thursday, Sept. 15.

Mary Ruff, Friends of Bosque del Apache NWR board president, couldn’t be happier that the festival is getting back on track.

“We are thrilled to invite people back in person for the first time since 2019,” Ruff said. “We hope people come to immerse themselves in this unique environment and enjoy the community built from a shared love of this place and these animals. The Friends of Bosque del Apache is happy to offer our 33rd festival to celebrate the birds, the refuge and the beauty of the middle Rio Grande valley.”

In addition to the in-person festival, virtual events will be conducted Nov. 18-19.

“The in-person festival is being held a few weeks later than in previous years,” Caldwell said. “The new dates, Dec. 1-3, were chosen to help ensure there will be even more wintering birds at the refuge. We designed this festival keeping diverse interests and needs in mind, and we are excited to welcome everyone.”

Spaces are limited and usually sell out quickly.

To view a catalog of all events and to register, go to: