Tens of thousand of sandhill cranes swarm the skies over the waters of the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area just after sunset Tuesday, January 15, 2013, McNeal, Ariz. The 20th Wings Over Willcox begins Wednesday with thousands of birders heading into southern Arizona to get a glimpse of the area's avian attractions, including the main draw, the sandhill cranes.

Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star

Wings Over Willcox - an annual celebration of all things avian - takes place today through Sunday in Willcox and the nearby Sulphur Springs Valley.

Stars of the show: stately sandhill cranes that flock to the valley by the thousands in the winter.

The Wings festival - with a slate of free seminars and events as well as tours with associated fees - emphasizes birds but also takes in a range of other nature and history topics.

After preliminary events, the festival gets in full swing Thursday with bird-watching and ceremonies including a welcoming reception.

"This is the 20th anniversary of Wings Over Willcox," said Homer Hansen, chairman of the festival. "We're especially excited about our dedication of Cochise Lake (south of Willcox) as a Global Important Bird Area."

The designation, recognized by the Audubon Society and other organizations, came in large part because the lake attracts sandhill cranes, shorebirds and other bird life, Hansen said. A new wildlife viewing deck at the lake also will be featured during the festival.


"One of the great things about Wings is that people can take part in much of it for free - or just the price of gas to get here," Hansen said. "You can see the cranes for free. The talks and presentations are free. Only the tours have a fee associated with them."

Talks, a Nature Expo with live animal displays and educational exhibits, and other free events will be held at the Willcox Community Center, 312 W. Stewart St.


Popular tours and trips include:

• The Sunrise Sandhill Crane Tour. Fee: $35.

• Daylong Hawk Stalk Tour. Fee: $75.

• Wetlands, Woodlands and History Tour. Fee: $50.

if you go

• What: Wings Over Willcox - a bird and nature festival

• When: Today through Sunday

• Where: Willcox Community Center, 312 W. Stewart St., and other sites near the community

• Cost: Admission is free to a Nature Expo, talks and seminars. Fees - ranging from $35 to more than $100 - will be charged for most tours.

• Information on events, locations, tours and fees: 1-800-200-2272 or www.wingsoverwillcox.com

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz