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Chicagoland Wildlife Refuge Could Be Chance to See Cougar, Trumpeter Swan, Cranes

This week the Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’d study a plan to start a wildlife refuge between Milwaukee and Chicago. What would the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge mean for wildlife watchers?
A chance to see cranes, trumpeter swan, otter, badger, coyote, deer–and possibly cougar, whooping cranes, a funny kind of squirrel and some threatened bats and turtles.

The Friends of the Hackmatack NWR  who have already been working for years to get this gonig, in part inspired by the fact that when Audubon Magazine boasted that “a wildlife refuge is located within an hour’s drive of every major metropolitan area” Chicago proved them wrong. It’s the biggest city without one. This refuge takes note of the need for wildlife watching near where people live; it’s designed to be within two hours of Chicago and Milwaukee. Judging by the excited email I got from my friend David Hall and others, I’d say it would be pretty popular.

Hackatack–named after the larch tree–would try to sew together the patchworkd of 88 parks and preserves already there so that wildlife can have some breathing room. The wildlife service wouldn’t force anyone out, but they would offer to buy property within the refuge boundaries.

I did some research on what animals we might expect to see if we visited the refuge:

Cougar:  The Cougar Network has two confirmed sightings in the refuge area since 2008, one with physical evidence, the other verified by a qualified pro.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan: Maybe! This endangered native swan is already very close by in Wisconsin and has benefitted from a massive reintroduction program in Iowa. Illinois seems to be doing next to nothing for these straight-necked swans–except accidentally shooting them down south.

Bats: McHenry County has six species of bats. That includes four that Wisconsin is keeping special watch over:  Eastern Red Bat, Hoary Bat, Northern Long-eared Bat, and the Silver-haired Bat.

Whooping Cran © Luther Goldman

Cranes: Sandhill cranes definitely pass through. The site is on the flyway of the flock of 21 endangered whooping cranes that summer in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and winter in  Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. They are famously being taught the route, which makes stopovers in national wildlife refuges, by ultralight aircraft.

River Otter: Yep, it’s all over Wisconsin


Franklin’s Ground Squirrel © Tom Schultz

Franklin’s Ground Squirrel: Wisconsin calls this a species of greatest concern. It’s like a small prairie dog, but quiter and less entertaining.


Badger: Badgers are all over Wisconsin, but rarely seen.

Owls : McHenry has 13 species of owl, including the snowy owl.

Blanding’s Turtle: This threatened turtle takes 17 to 20 years to reach maturity.

Blanding’s Turtle

Black Bear: Probably not, says Wisconsin, who rates appearances here as rare. No way, says Illinois, who says only one black bear has been seen in the state since 1870 and they kicked that one out.

Wolf: Nope

Lynx: No way

American Marten: No, he’s all the way up on Lake Superior

 Where to See More Animals Around the Midwest

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1 comment to Chicagoland Wildlife Refuge Could Be Chance to See Cougar, Trumpeter Swan, Cranes

  • outwalkingthedog

    Very cool. Thanks for the run-down on critters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the Refuge. Don’t forget coyotes – Chicago already has a large population along with a great wildlife researcher, Stanley Gehrt, who founded the Cook County Urban Coyote Project.