By Julia Deng
BIG SPRING - Hundreds of sandhill cranes are roosting in an unlikely location for a wild bird sanctuary: behind the back garage of the Big Spring Harley-Davidson dealership.
"You wouldn't think, huh?" said Howard Walker, whose family has owned the 3rd Street business since 1929. "I've been feeding them for 23 years. They come back every year. This is the only place I know of in the world that you can get this close to a wild bird."
The cranes fly through West Texas every winter on their migration route from Siberia.
Walker said the same flock of birds land in the open meadow behind his garage in Big Spring - "their favorite winter home" - every November.
"They'll be leaving here the last of March [or] the first of April and going back to Siberia, Russia where they'll raise their babies," he told NewsWest 9.
Walker and his son, Robert, who now runs the dealership, installed a deer feeder filled with corn for the cranes.
They described lunch time as a "controlled crash."
"They all start coming in and trying to land," said the elder Walker, whistling and tossing a handful of corn into the meadow. "They really put on a show."
However, a crucial part of their habitat is drying up, with much of West Texas experiencing a long-term drought.
Big Spring's namesake spring disappeared nearly a century ago and the majority of residents reportedly rely on filtered water.
"The water used to bring them here," Walker said. "They roost in the salt lakes out in the water, so that if a dog or a coyote or something tries to catch them at night, they [are protected by] that water."
For now, hundreds are still alive and well - right behind his garage of vintage motorbikes.
"We get a hundred to three hundred out here at one time," he said. "Sometimes I try to count them but then [they start flying] and I lose count."