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Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists


Posted by Diane Wilhite -

A pair of Sandhill Cranes nested in Champaign County again in 2015 and hatched two more babies, according to wildlife photographer Brian Stearns, who first spotted the pair in the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve in 2010. Subsequent observations by Stearns, his wife Susan, and others have confirmed that the birds are reproducing here, not just migrating through.

Before 2010, Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) had not been observed to nest in Champaign County for about a century and a half. They once nested routinely in the state, but loss of habitat moved the southern limit of the nesting range north to Wisconsin. They have made a comeback of late.

I wrote about the return of the long-legged, red-crowned birds in the September 2014 Field Notes.

Stearns said baby cranes hatched last April. He doesn't know if either survived. The parents have been "nesting in the same spot pretty much like clockwork." He said the forest preserve probably doesn't have enough suitable habitat for a second pair of cranes, which are solitary nesters.

The birds are skittish around humans, so Stearns urged people not to go looking for them in the forest preserve. Good places to observe them include Heron Park at Danville's Lake Vermilion, and the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in northwestern Indiana.

Jasper-Pulaski hosts a migrating congregation in the fall before they start the long trek south -- just as their more famous cousins gather in the Platte River sand hills of Nebraska that give the species its common name.

Stearns, incoming president of the Champaign County Audubon Society, said another success story at the Champaign County. forest preserve is a nesting pair of eagles. They are known to have hatched two birds a year since the nest was discovered six years ago.

Story by John Palen (2012).

Photo: The pair of Sandhill Cranes that have been nesting in Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. By Brian Stearns.

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