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Bird watchers (and sandhill cranes) flock to eastern Washington

Thousands of their fans will greet them, but the onlookers will be outnumbered by approximately 25,000 to 35,000 sandhill cranes making a stop in eastern Washington.  The birds stand up to 4 feet tall, and stop in the Othello area every March at the Columbia National Wildlife refuge on their way to summer breeding grounds in Alaska.

For the past 14 years Othello has celebrated the rite of spring and welcomed birdwatchers with the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival. The video below is from the festival's web site.

The festival was nearly canceled this year because of a shortage of volunteers, but it was revived by the city of Othello, because the event draws up to 1,500 visitors who are good for local businesses.

The Seattle Times' Ron Judd reports the refuge was created in 1944 as part of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The sandhill cranes began stopping in large numbers in the 1970s, instead of just flying over.

Birdnote, which airs on KPLU at 8:58 a.m. each weekday, featured the sandhill crane in a February broadcast.

The Seattle Audubon website has more details about sandhill cranes in Washington state, including audio of the crane's call

There are a few typical migration patterns for sandhill cranes across the U.S.