sandhill crane is one of the largest birds nesting in
Lake County. Though endangered in Illinois, nests have been
found in Wadsworth Savanna, Almond Marsh and other Lake County
Forest Preserves. Flying overhead, its neck stretched out,
gliding on powerful wings that span seven feet across, the
sandhill crane soars on thermals for hours, traveling up to
600 miles before resting.
stately wading birds have long black legs, long necks and black chisel-like beaks.
Although the adults are mainly gray, they have a distinctive red crown on their
forehead. Immature cranes are brown, helping them hide in the tall grass where
birds are omnivorous ground feeders, taking advantage of what might be available
at various locations and seasons. Their diet includes insects, rodents, frogs,
snails, lizards, snakes, berries, seeds, bulbs, the roots of aquatic plants and
occasional seashore treats. Such adaptability also attracts them to waste grain
in winter farm fields as they migrate north.
at their nesting grounds in the early spring, the sandhill cranes do an elaborate
courtship dance, circling slowly, bowing thier heads to one another, springing
up 15-20 feet in the air and whirling around as they leap and call in the meadows.
They build simple nests of twigs, moss, dry grass and feathers in the shallow
water of marshes and bogs. Usually two eggs are laid and both the male and female
cranes take turns incubating them. After 30 days, the eggs hatch. Young cranes
are strong enough to migrate south with their parents after only two and a half
large, the majestic birds may be hard to spot in the grey
and brown grasses of the prairies and marshes. Listen for
the resonating chorus of shrill, rolling garooo-a-a-a calls
as they fly.
you to the Michigan
Audubon Society's Baker Sanctuary website for use of their
flying crane image.
(Joyce Perbix, photographer)