Best time to travel to Illinois

Sandhill Crane Migration in Illinois

Sandhill cranes make a stop at northern Illinois marshes on their way to Florida

Best time: mid-September–mid-November

Sandhill Crane Migration
Flying cranes

Sandhill crane or Antigone canadensis is one of the oldest birds on the planet and one of the most prominent in North America thanks to its large size and a recognizable red spot on the forehead. Luckily, these birds can be spotted almost everywhere throughout the Midwest, especially during their annual migration season. Starting from mid-September and till mid-November, thousands of cranes from the so-called eastern population pass through Illinois on their way to wintering sites in Florida. There's also a small population of cranes in northeastern Illinois that stay there during spring and summer for breeding and nesting.

Cranes enjoy shallow waters and open spaces and can usually be spotted at prairies, wetlands, and marshes. In Illinois, the marshes of McHenry and Lake Counties provide an ideal habitat for cranes. Every fall, from September through November, McHenry County Conservation District offers a special "Sandhill Crane Experience" that lasts from 5 to 8 pm at Lost Valley Visitor Center in Glacial Park. It includes observation of the birds that congregate right below the windows of the Lost Valley Overlook Room as well as an educational presentation and dinner. Cranes can also be seen at Moraine Hills State Park and Goose Lake Conservation Area in McHenry County as well as at Chain of Lakes State Park, Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve, and Volo Bog in Lake County. The region's best spot to see sandhill cranes is in the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana, which can be reached from Chicago in less than two hours.

Practical info

When is the best time to see sandhill cranes in Illinois?

The annual migration season of sandhill cranes in Illinois usually takes place from mid-September to mid-November. This is the best time to spot them. Thousands of cranes from the eastern population pass through Illinois during this period. Northeastern Illinois also has a population of cranes that breed and nest in spring and summer. Show more

Where can I find sandhill cranes in Illinois, apart from the Lost Valley Visitor Center?

Moraine Hills State Park and Goose Lake Conservation Area in McHenry County are great locations to spot sandhill cranes in Illinois apart from the Lost Valley Visitor Center. Visitors can also go to Chain of Lakes State Park, Volo Bog, and Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve in Lake County. Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana is the region's most recommended place to see sandhill cranes. Show more

What is the population size of sandhill cranes in Illinois?

Illinois is home to two sandhill crane populations. During their migration season from mid-September to mid-November, thousands of cranes from the eastern population pass through Illinois. The other group is a small population that breeds and nests during spring and summer in northeastern Illinois. Worldwide, the sandhill crane populations are estimated to be about 500,000 in number. Of those, around 400,000 live in North America. Show more

How can I get to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area from Chicago?

Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, the best vantage point to see sandhill cranes in the region, is easily accessible from Chicago. You can reach it by driving less than two hours south on Interstate 65 toward Lafayette. Take the State Road 14 exit, turn left onto County Road 1600, and then take another left on Jasper-Pulaski Road. Continue along this road, and you'll arrive at Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area. Unfortunately, there is no public means of transportation that can take you to the area. Show more

What kind of presentation and dinner does the 'Sandhill Crane Experience' in Lost Valley Visitor Center provide?

Every fall, from 5-8 pm, the McHenry County Conservation District holds the 'Sandhill Crane Experience' at Lost Valley Visitor Center in Glacial Park. You can spot cranes congregating right below the windows of the Lost Valley Overlook Room and listen to their calls. Additionally, there's an educational talk that delves into the biology and behavior of sandhill cranes. They offer light meals or snacks during dinner, which is not clearly outlined on their website. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen