Going south: Red-headed sandhill cranes passed over Oak Park last week.File

If you were parked in front of the tube or had your head buried in a book, you missed it. Hundreds of majestic birds flew over Oak Park last week, squawking and flapping in giant V formations, an occurrence that villagers only get to view twice a year.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 23, flocks of sandhill cranes — long-legged, long-necked, red-headed birds — traveled down from Wisconsin toward Indiana and points south in their annual fall relocation.

Oak Parker Robert Connors was raking his lawn when he spotted the mass migration. An avid hiker and nature enthusiast, he started knocking on doors and called Wednesday Journal to share the experience.

“They’re big, beautiful, they have this very distinctive call, they travel in such large flocks, and they migrate over such long distances,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing to think that that’s going on right overhead here, yet so few of us see it.”

Bernice Malmanger, 80, has lived in Oak Park for more than 50 years, but she’s never noticed the flocks overhead — that is until Connors knocked on her door and interrupted her coffee drinking. She was happy he did.

“As soon as I stepped out on the deck, I could hear them, which was beyond belief,” she said (Chicago Wilderness Magazine likens the sandhills’ call to a “wobbly trumpet burst”). “It was awesome.”

They were way high up, but Malmanger said she could just make them out as the sun gleamed off their wings when they turned.

Connors, 62, is a retiree who loves to go hiking and observe nature. He has previously traveled to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area — about two hours southeast of Oak Park in Medaryville, Ind. — to see the birds arrive, and suggests that other locals do the same within the next few weeks. There were about 12,000 sandhill cranes at the location as of Nov. 16, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Or, if you’re wrapped up in the holidays, Connors noted that the sandhills will return in early March, when they fly back north from Florida in the spring.

“It’s something you won’t soon forget,” he said.

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