Sandhill Crane Spring Migration North - Northern Illinois - March 2021
On a recent afternoon, we had our backdoor open to enjoy the warmer temperatures when I heard that prehistoric call of the Sandhill Crane. We live out in the Western Suburbs of Chicago and it was early afternoon in early/mid March of 2021 when I took this video below of a group of Sandhill Cranes flying in what sure seems like a circular pattern that continues to move north. Almost like how a tornado moves across land. They were, as is their pattern, flying pretty high in the sky, but that sound was unmistakeable. This is a 2:30 video, but I've started the embed below at about half-way because that's when the noise is clearest. Turn up your speaker and click play below:
The University of Illinois Extension office has a nice piece up that talks about the history of the Sandhill Crane in Illinois and how it was once, a VERY rare sight, but thanks to wetlands management, we have helped them come back in big numbers:
These birds were once a rare sight in Illinois with only two dozen breeding pairs in the upper Midwest in the 1930s. However, researchers estimate that due to restoration of essential breeding habitats such as wetlands, marshes, and prairies, sandhill crane populations have doubled over the last decade growing at a rate of 4.4% each year according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Overall, conservation of these birds is a Midwest success story.
Sandhill Cranes can be alarming upon first encountering them on the ground. They stand three-and-a-half to four feet tall with a wingspan of six to seven feet, and like many species in the crane family, they have long necks and legs. A defining feature of Sandhill cranes is the red cap on their heads which is only present in adults. As they migrate, Sandhill Cranes can cover an average of 200 miles in a day through rising in thermals and gliding great distances.
I think our best bet is up in Wisconsin during the Summer as that's near the southern edge of their breeding grounds. Or, in our green room at home (more on that in a different post).
For location specifics, here's about where these birds were flying over when I took the video: