To kill a sandhill crane

I felt such despair on Wednesday when I read that someone had shot a sandhill crane in Lake Villa. This was not hunting. This was an act of a bully.

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Sandhill cranes

Sun-Times file photo

On Wednesday, May 26, the full moon rose over Chicago at 8:55 p.m. It took ten minutes to clear the horizon, but I spotted it before then as it gave the night sky a pink-orange glow.

As I watched the moon rise through a pair of 40-year-old binoculars, I felt a deep inner calm. I needed that sense of calm to balance against a sense of despair I had felt that morning, a point I’ll come back to.

I have favorite “moon times,” in fall and spring, because I associate the moon and its phases with the migration of sandhill cranes. Growing up in the 10th Ward on Chicago’s Southeast Side, I could step out into my backyard on a cold March morning and watch with those same binoculars as waves of cranes, sometimes by the thousands, flew north from the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refugee in Indiana.

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As the cranes passed overhead, I would wonder what had set them in motion from their winter homes in Southern states like Tennessee and Georgia. Was it the position of the spring sun or a recent full moon?

Although I have moved out of the 10th Ward since then, I have not left the cranes behind. Close to where I live now is an area that I think of as their “rallying point,” where hundreds and even thousands of cranes meet, swarm and coalesce in mid-air on their way north. Truly a sight to see.

Where is it? Sorry, not telling.

This past spring, the crane migration I witnessed broke into two huge halves just about a week apart. In the first half, a Sunday as I recall, thousands of cranes flew over en mass in the course of just an hour or so. Loud, raucous and colorful — full of life! — they swirled above me as they got their compass bearings: 300 degrees, north by northwest.

It was a special time, as I had come to feel as if those cranes, and the past generations I had watched years ago, were as close as friends and family. They had become part of the fabric of my life.

It was also a special moment because there was a lone whooping crane tucked into a small skein of its sandhill cousins. It stood out, and I felt that inner calm, but only for a moment.

Three or four springs back, on another mass migration day, I had seen two whoopers flying side by side in a small skein of sandhills. Mates? So when I saw this single whooper now, my calm turned to alarm: Where was the other one? Had something befallen it? Was this a different whooping crane from the earlier two?

If not, had someone shot one of them?

That has always been a worry, that someone would shoot a crane.

The despair I felt earlier on Wednesday, long before that full moon rose, came from reading in this paper, the Sun-Times, that someone had in fact shot a sandhill crane in Lake Villa. The crane died three days later, and the Flint Creek Wildlife Center in Barrington was offering a $2,500 reward for information about the shooting.

As I read the article, I felt deflated, defeated and dejected. I have nothing against hunting, as the legal taking of game is part of the cycle of the seasons. And many hunters revere the natural world as much as non-hunters. Have you read William Faulkner’s “The Bear”?

But the shooting of that crane was not hunting for sustenance. It was an act of destruction by a bully and a coward. A bully, as he used a weapon against a defenseless creature that posed no harm to him; a coward, as he then ran away.

All bullies are cowards.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially this past winter, many of us have found solace and enjoyment in the natural world. (I know aboutsolace, as I lost two good friends and my sister this past winter. Being out in nature didn’t heal, but it helped.) Cranes are an embodiment of the natural world, as they are colorful, lithe and graceful. They privilege the family and the group, and they mate for life.

If you know who shot that crane, turn the bully in. Call the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at 877-236-7529. But don’t do it for the reward. Do it as a way to stand up for and protect the beauty of the natural world.

Someone knows who did this. Bullies always need an audience.

John Vukmirovich is a Chicago-area writer, researcher and book reviewer.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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