Hunters, researchers work together to study sandhill cranes

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Thousands of sandhill cranes migrate through the Middle Rio Grande Valley every year. There is a unique partnership that helps researchers to better understand the beloved birds.

The University of New Mexico’s Museum of Southwestern Biology is working with local hunters to gather specimens.

"It’s really cool to be able to work with hunters and Game and Fish to try and facilitate our research as much as possible," said Ethan Gyllenhaal, a research with the university’s Biology Department.

Last weekend was the last hunt New Mexico Game and Fish allowed for sandhill cranes.

"We can ask, OK, what don’t we know about sandhill cranes that we can learn by collaborating with hunters and studying the birds they bring in?" said Chris Witt, who oversees the Museum of Southwestern Biology.

Gyllenhaal is studying the bird’s variations in their talons – all part of gaining a better understanding of how the cranes evolve, migrate, mate and change to better protect vital biodiversity.

"The Rocky Mountain population has been about 20,000 individuals for several decades and it’s been very stable," Witt said. "But, in recent years, it’s actually surging and it’s going on above 25,000, and I think you can see that in Albuquerque."

The migration north is expected to start in just a few weeks.