MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Just as our national symbol — the bald eagle — has become a common sight across all parts of Minnesota, there is yet another comeback worth celebrating.

The 23,000-acre Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area is nature’s oasis; a sort of wild sanctuary for all kinds of critters, offering all of them a perfect habitat in which to roam.

It is that wildness on the northern fringe of the Twin Cities that lures avid bird watchers like Carrol Henderson — who had quite a unique trip to the area this past weekend.

“It was just such a panorama that I’ve never, ever seen before,” Henderson said.

In all his years as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ non-game wildlife expert, Henderson never thought he would encounter what he observed Sunday. Standing and walking around in an expanse of lush, green grass in the wildlife area is at least 150 young sandhill cranes.

Henderson says he has never seen more than a few of the paired cranes this close to the Twin Cities in all his years.

One reason the cranes were attracted to Carlos Avery is very likely the controlled burns of large, grassy expanses surrounding the WMA’s wetland pools.

Henderson says that creates a perfect habitat for the young, sub-adult cranes to gather, forage and look for a potential mate.

“This is like a singles’ bar up there!” Henderson said.

What’s even more impressive is the crane’s incredible recovery in the state. Henderson wrote an article back in the 1970s for the DNR’s Volunteer Magazine titled, “Last Call for Cranes?”

He pointed out that in 1940, the state could count no more than 40 sandhill cranes living in the state in far northwestern Minnesota.

A combination of factors, such as protected habitat and public education, has clearly changed that.

“Some of them actually show up in people’s backyards now because they’re protected, and in the metro area people can enjoy them within a short drive,” Henderson said.

The sandhill crane population is now estimated at around 10,000 in Minnesota.

Henderson expects the cranes to remain at Carlos Avery for quite a while, giving the public some good viewing.