Sandhill Crane

Is there any sound more attention-catching than the bugle of the sandhill crane? Loud, deliberate, trilling, it is apt to emanate from the skies above any clear day in November as flocks of sandhill cranes, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, fly south to wintering grounds in the southern part of our country.

Wendy Paulson's Birds of Barrington - Sandhill Crane
Wendy Paulson’s Birds of Barrington – Sandhill Crane

To be sure, sandhill cranes do not only pass through the Barrington area. They have graced the countryside during summer months for the past twenty years or so. The first known nest in Barrington, possibly even in Lake County, was made at Citizen for Conservation’s Flint Creek Savanna nineteen years ago. The combination of wetlands and upland prairie at that preserve is a perfect recipe for breeding cranes. They can forage in the prairie for insects and invertebrates and can hide effectively in the matrix of native vegetation in the marshes.

For many years the breeding pair has sheltered its offspring, known as colts, on one of the floating islands constructed, planted, and launched by volunteers into the ponds at Flint Creek Savanna. The water surrounding the islands discourages raccoons and other predators from disturbing the family. In the daytime, the cranes often stroll through the yards of the Savannah subdivision, looking for insects and vegetable matter, and safe from local coyotes. Vigilant neighbors alert each other so that dogs and other pets do not harass the cranes.

Wendy Paulson's Birds of Barrington - Sandhill Crane
Wendy Paulson’s Birds of Barrington – Sandhill Crane

In recent years, pairs of sandhill cranes have nested at sites throughout the Barrington area. I bike frequently on local roads and always keep alert for their profiles, especially in farm fields and horse pastures. The cranes are hardly inconspicuous: they stand three or more feet tall on long legs, with long necks and tail feathers gathered into a sort of trailing bustle. Their plumage is mostly grey, though washed with rust during breeding season, contrasting with a bright red forehead and cheek patches. The cranes walk in regal fashion, typically unhurried and deliberate, bending every so often to glean grain or other edibles from the vegetation beneath.

But it is in autumn, especially in November, that sandhill cranes are most conspicuous. When I used to walk to the end of our driveway to collect our children from the schoolbus on late October and November afternoons, my heart would soar at the sound, and then the sight, of scores of cranes flying in loose formation overhead. Theirs is truly a call of the wild.

Aldo Leopold, the unparalleled nature chronicler and conservation philosopher/practitioner, said it this way: “When we hear [the crane’s] call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.” I write in hopes that all of us will experience this month the thrill of sandhill cranes overhead.

Photo Credit: Forge Mountain Photography / Will Thomas via Compfight cc * sylvar via Compfight cc  * NaturesFan1226 via Compfight cc  * Eric Kilby via Compfight cc


About the Author

Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.

Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson

Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.

During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.

She has a regular schedule of bird walks in the Barrington area sponsored by Citizens for Conservation and Audubon Chicago Region.

Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.

For more information about a cause close to Wendy’s heart here in Barrington, visit

Wendy is also a regular contributor at sharing profiles of birds found in the Barrington area. CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series and watch for her next contribution which will be published early next month.

Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington? Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and we’ll ask Wendy!

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