Behold the beauty of Will County's cutest critters

Both on land and in the air, these creatures are sure to make your heart swoon

|  Story by Meghan McMahon |


Beauty has inspired many a popular saying. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is only skin deep. So on and so forth.

Cuteness, on the other hand, may not have inspired any catchy phrases, but people know cute when they see it. And when they see it, they love it. Beauty may have given us many meaningful sayings, but cuteness rules the day on social media, where pouring over images with hashtags like #toocute and #cutenessoverload can help brighten anyone’s day.

Here in Will County, our preserves are populated with more than a few Instagram-worthy animals that you shouldn’t be surprised to find tagged as #toocute. Below is a sampling of some of the animals that will make your heart swoon.


Two deer showing affection for each other.

(Photo courtesy Amy Miller)

The sight of a white-tailed deer might not make your heart melt, but can you say the same about their fawns? Deer produce some mighty adorable offspring, as evidenced by the animated classic “Bambi.” Bambi is actually a mule deer, a separate deer species that lives across the western United States. But mule deer and white-tailed deer look quite similar in appearance, and so do their fawns.

It’s hard to resist those spotted babies, often secreted away in a hidden spot to help them avoid detection by predators. Once they’re a bit older and able to forage with their mothers, they remain irresistibly cute as they trail behind her. All through their lives, deer remain shy and curious, watching quietly from a distance, and this surely helps solidify their reputation as one of the most adorable creatures populating our lands.


A beaver sitting on ice.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Beavers might not immediately come to mind when asked about cute animals, but anyone who has seen them in action would understand their inclusion on the list. Beavers are very hard workers, and they are good workers too. Case in point: Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to alter the environment in which they live.

Their work ethic doesn’t necessarily make them adorable, but these little lumberjacks are plenty cute as they work furiously to cut down a tree or limb and drag it back to the lodges or the dams they build. Even watching them eat can be awe-inducing, with their front paws wrapped around either end of a stick or other plant material as they chew away at it.  


Three young raccoons.

(Photo courtesy of Bertrand Leclercq)

Any animal that’s earned nicknames like trash panda and trash bandit is probably a shoo-in for inclusion on a list of cute animals, so it’s no surprise that raccoons are among the awe-inducing animals we see in our preserves. But raccoons also have a reputation as mischief makers, so these mammals draw about as much ire as they do awe.

Probably the cutest thing about raccoons is their masked faces, making them look like little bandits. But that’s only one reason raccoons have earned their bandit nickname. These critters quite literally play the role of bandit, breaking into all manner of garbage cans and other storage containers in search of a good meal. They aren’t picky eaters, feasting on just about anything they can get their hands on, including garbage and pet food, Wildlife Illinois reports. And their front feet — which look like tiny little hands — are extremely sensitive, with long, dexterous fingers that make them adept at getting into trouble.  


An opossum carrying babies on her back.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

These critters may be a controversial addition to the list of the cutest animals in the preserves. Not everyone sees the beauty of opossums, and we get it. They probably wouldn’t win any mother nature beauty pageants, and some would probably label them ugly instead of cute. But if you see a mother opossum carrying her litter of babies around on her back, it would be hard to argue that it’s anything other than cuteness overload.

Like raccoons, opossums can cause problems for homeowners because they are scavengers and will get into garbage cans in search of a good meal. Mischievous reputation aside, there’s a lot to appreciate about these animals. They are the only marsupials that live in North America, and their scavenger feeding habits are beneficial because it helps clean the environment of roadkill and other carrion. And what’s not to love about an animal that literally pretends to drop dead to keep itself safe from predators? 


A squirrel eating a nut in a tree.

(Photo by Anthony Schalk)

Add squirrels to the list of animals that are pretty darn adorable if you can overlook their sometimes annoying and troublesome behaviors. In the case of squirrels, their raiding of bird feeders sometimes causes frustration, but if you can look past this bad habit there’s a lot to love about squirrels. To start with, those big, bushy tails are hard to resist. And is there anything cuter than a squirrel with a seed or nut in its hands, furiously trying to get to the good stuff inside the hard outer shell?

And while they may be cute, their memories aren’t as great as you might think for an animal that buries nuts and other foods to help it survive through winter, when food is scarce. In fact, squirrels fail to recover as much as 74 percent of the nuts they bury, studies have found. That may be bad news — and a lot of hard work for naught — for the squirrels, but it’s good news for other woodland creatures because their lost treasures can help new trees grow.


A chipmunk with a peanut in its mouth.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Alvin, Simon and Theodore have nothing on the real-life chipmunks that live right here in Will County. Like squirrels, eastern chipmunks predominantly eat nuts and seeds, which allows for some melt-your-heart cuteness as they work furiously to get at the good stuff inside. And let’s not forget how positively adorable it is when a chipmunk has its cheeks just absolutely stuffed with food.  

And, naturally, if you find chipmunks adorable, you’ll have the same opinion of 13-lined ground squirrels, because the two animals look and behave so similarly that they are often confused for one another.


A mink sitting on a log.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Daley)

Minks might not immediately come to mind when you think of cute animals, but that may be just because you’ve never gotten a close look at one. With their long, slender bodies and adorable little faces, they are sure to win over anyone who is just becoming familiar with these creatures. They’re mostly nocturnal and they spend almost all their time within 100 feet of the water, so encounters with humans aren’t as common as with many other animals. However, they do live all over Illinois, with their population highest in the northeastern portion of the state, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

As you might expect, these semi-aquatic mammals are good swimmers and divers, but they are skilled on land as well. They can even climb trees! Their presence in and around waterways is a sign of a healthy ecosystem and functioning food chain, because they are one of the top predators among the aquatic food webs in Illinois, according to Wildlife Illinois

River otter

A river otter poking out of the water.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

River otters would top many people’s lists of the cutest animals because they aren’t just cute, they are playful too. What could be cuter than river otters frolicking around on land and splish-splashing around in the water?

River otters are among 13 otter species in the world, and they are particularly playful even by otter standards. Young river otters often slip and slide down snowy, icy or muddy hills before splashing down into the water, National Geographic reports. They often do this as a family, with a mother and her offspring all enjoying a play session together. While it may all seem like fun and games, all this frolicking also teaches the young otters important survival skills.  Another adorable behavior trait: Some otters, particularly sea otters, sometimes intertwine their feet together with another otter while they sleep so they don’t float away, National Geographic reports. 

Sandhill crane

A sandhill crane with its colts.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

You might picture sandhill cranes as regal and elegant birds, but hear us out here because baby sandhill cranes are just the cutest. Much like ducklings and goslings are much cuter than their adult counterparts, baby sandhill cranes, called colts, are pretty adorable, with their skinny legs and fluffy little bodies.

While young sandhill cranes are cute as can be, they are capable too. They are able to leave the nest only eight hours after hatching, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. After about two months, the young cranes are fully independent, although they typically stay with their parents for nine to 10 months after hatching. 

Northern saw-whet owl

A northern saw-whet owl on a branch.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Owls have a reputation as fierce predators, but who says they can’t be cute too? While you may not label all owls as adorable, the northern saw-whet owl is one that definitely is. These owls are among the smallest owls in North America, similar in size to a robin, according to Cornell Lab. Compare their stature to that of a great horned owl. Northern saw-whets stand between 7 inches and 8 inches tall and weigh between 2 ounces and 6 ounces. Great horned owls, on the other hand, stand between 18 inches and 25 inches tall and weigh between 2 pounds and 5 ½ pounds. It’s not just their small stature that makes them cute. They have heads that seem a little oversized for their stature, and they have adorable, round faces. And like many owls, they become even more adorable when they tilt their heads to the side in a look of curiosity.

As cute as they may be, northern saw-whets are still owls, and like almost all owls, they are fierce raptors. Saw-whet owls mainly feed on mice, catching them and ripping them into pieces before eating them, usually over the course of two meals, Cornell Lab reports. 

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