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Are Dinosaurs Flying Through Illinois?

One tell-tale sign of the spring and fall seasons is the migration of the Sandhill Cranes (Antigone candensis) through Illinois. These large, prehistoric birds migrate through Illinois from February to April and then again from September to November.

Sandhill Crane | Photo Courtesy of
Sandhill Crane | Photo Courtesy of

So, are Sandhill Cranes actually dinosaurs? Scientifically speaking…maybe? Sandhill Cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any other existing bird. The oldest fossil recording is estimated to be 2.5 million years old. The migration pattern of the Sandhill Crane has stayed virtually the same since the Eocene period (56 to 34 million years ago).

Sensational Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes are tall creatures, coming in at 3.5 to 4 feet tall with a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet wide. Their long necks and legs contribute to their dinosaur-like features. Sandhill Cranes have gray feathers and the feathers over their rump is called a “bustle”. In the spring, their feathers may appear more rusty red than gray. Adults have a featherless red “cap” on their heads.

Sandhill Cranes have a distinct vocalization that sounds like a loud, rattling “gurrooo-gurrooo-gurrooo”.

Sandhill Cranes prefer to rest and breed away from people, usually in marshy areas or crop fields. Their diet consists of insects, soft-bodied and small invertebrates, seeds, and plant tubers. They build their nests in secluded areas like tall grasses, sedges, and cattails near shallow water or shorelines.

Sandhill Cranes typically lay two brown, olive-splotched eggs. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs until they hatch, approximately 30 days later. Usually only one chick from the pair survives. However, Sandhill Cranes can live as long as 20 to 30 years in the wild!

Gentle Giants

Sandhill Cranes may seem like big, intimidating birds; however, they prefer to stay away from people most of the time. They may become aggressive when defending their eggs, young, and territory. Simply put, if you leave them alone they will leave you alone.

Speaking of leaving them alone, Sandhill Cranes are protected in Illinois by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Illinois Wildlife Code. They must not be captured, harassed, or killed without a permit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Sandhill Crane | Photo Courtesy of
Sandhill Crane | Photo Courtesy of

Fact Facts

Sandhill Cranes mate for life.

They typically spend their winters in the Southern United States from Florida to Texas.

Sandhill Cranes can fly up to 25 to 35 mph and can travel 200 to 300 miles on one day.

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