Freeport, Illinois — It’s a rare case to catch even a glimpse of the tallest North American bird. One of the rarest and also one of the largest and most magnificent, the species that was once fairly widespread on the northern prairies was brought to the brink of extinction in the 1940’s. At that time the total population of the whooping crane had dwindled to a low of 16 birds. Along with the sandhill crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America.
Kathy Sheldrake of Freeport happened to be in the right place at the right time yesterday to catch not only a glimpse of this amazing bird, but capture this video for all of us to see.
As many as 1,400 whooping cranes migrated across North America in the mid-1800’s. By the late 1930’s, the Aransas population was down to just 18 birds. Because of well-coordinated efforts to protect habitat and the birds themselves, the population is slowly increasing. In 1993, the population stood at 112. In the spring of 2002, it is estimated that there were 173 whoopers – a small, but important increase. Today, three populations exist: one in the Kissimmee Prairie of Florida, the only migratory population at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and a very small captive-bred population in Wisconsin.
Whooping cranes mate for life, but will accept a new mate if one dies. Cranes can live up to 24 years in the wild.
The cranes spotted in the video above were seen off Route 20, just near the River Rd bridge. We were told there were several sandhill crane’s with them.
Kathy says, “this is indeed a rare treat to see in Illinois!”
You can also view the video on Kathy’s YouTube channel here.
See other sightings here.