As hundreds of fans collect for the annual Eckert Crane Festival this weekend in southwestern Colorado, birdwatchers have spotted a lone crane they believe could be Baby, the species-confused sandhill crane, flying above and sitting along the Fruitgrowers Reservoir where she was set free Monday.

If the bird is Baby, there’s good news: Rather than hide in fear she stayed and foraged for food when other birds landed.

The bird has spent the last three years as a pet and identifies with humans rather than other cranes, but is no longer trying to befriend people. Hopes of recapturing her so far have been thwarted.

Opinions vary on whether Baby’s new unsociability is a good or a bad thing.

“Maybe Baby has decided to be a crane,” said Coen Wright, the Nu cla birdwatcher who turned Baby loose at the request of the ranchhand who rescued her as a chick. “I think this bird is very much capable of protecting itself.”

Baby’s rescuer was diagnosed with terminal cancer and expressed hope his bird could be reintroduced to the wild.

Steve Yamashita, assistant regional manager of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said it’s a common wish from those who illegally make wild animals pets. But it rarely comes true. He said his agency discourages raising wild pets because they are much less likely to be able to survive in the wild.

“They don’t have the natural instincts and motivation of wildlife critters,” Yamashita said.

Baby has grown up eating cat food from a dog dish, following her human around, visiting a Nucla schoolyard at recess time, hanging out on a porch, and occasionally flying to neighboring Naturita to stand around on the Main Street.

When she was left at the reservoir where thousands of migrating wild cranes stop every year at this time, she tried to follow Wright. She fell in step with hikers. She sought out neighboring ranchers’ children. And she hid in fear from the wild cranes.

After two days of this, Baby stopped seeking out humans.

“She may be out there saying, ‘I don’t fit with cranes and I don’t have my humans,'” said Rebecca Wolinsky, who has rehabilitated crows for the past 25 years. “She needs to be recaptured and rehabilitated.”

Nancy Limbach, who runs the Pauline E. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation near Silt, said she doesn’t know if Baby can survive after imprinting with humans. She said some birds will kill other birds of their own species if they have been raised by humans and don’t behave normally during mating season.

Limbach said she would be happy to take Baby to her center if she is recaptured.

Many other offers have come in since Baby’s story was publicized Thursday. People want to adopt her, to place her in various nature centers and even to write a children’s book about her.

Wright said if Baby decides to join the crowds this weekend, he is prepared to make the three-hour drive to pick her up. But he expects, because she does have a bird brain, he might see her even if she doesn’t.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see this bird turn up back here,” he said. “Birds have a sort of GPS in their heads.”