Migrating Whooping Cranes Visit Restored Wetlands in Northern Illinois
By Aleshia Kenney and Kraig McPeek
Rock Island Ecological Services Field Office
Every spring, bird watchers are out in full force watching birds make their way to summer breeding grounds. Each viewer hopes to see something rare and maybe…just maybe...a new life list. Just such an occasion happened during the last weekend of March in northern Illinois, when a private landowner who had worked with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to restore wetlands on his farm noticed a bunch of sandhill cranes and one endangered whooping crane using his restored wetland.
In the 1940s, only 16 whooping cranes remained in the wild; today there are around 600 birds. The whooping crane is endangered mainly as a result of habitat loss. As the country’s agricultural landscape took shape, wetlands that whooping cranes depended on for food and reproduction were drained to better accommodate corn and soybean production. Today there are many conservation efforts that focus on restoring wetlands back to the landscape.
Habitat restoration and enhancement in this area of northern Illinois has centered on wetland restoration and enhancement of floodplain habitats, primarily restoring hydrology to relic oxbows. Partners for Fish and Wildlife biologists from the Rock Island Field Office began restoring wetlands in this area in the mid- to early- 1990s, because of the vast opportunity for restoration. In 2009, Rock Island began using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to further enhance wetland restoration efforts in the Pecatonica River watershed. From 2009 to 2012 these funds were used to restore and/or enhance over 300 acres of wetlands in the watershed.
Two decades of work has paid off. Seeing whooping cranes feeding and loafing in a wetland that has been restored through the hard work of Service biologists and dedicated landowners is the “cat’s meow,” the “bee’s knees,” and the “pudding.”
We often work in a vacuum; but we achieve every day. We do our jobs to the best of our abilities but are often overcome with the inbox and getting this out or that out, or simply responding to emails. We need to take moments like this to fully understand that this picture represents a tremendous amount of work and dedication from biologists all over the Midwest and throughout the country.
The whooping crane is a symbol of success and a source of inspiration that we could all use to better ourselves and our ability to press on and change the curve. It represents a common goal that is sought and achieved only through shared work of all our programs, local conservation entities and partners alike.
What starts as a chick at a national wildlife refuge in Wisconsin is transformed into a symbol of protection, restoration and enforcement of conservation and habitat across a vast landscape that has many threats.