January 14, 2013

Living with Sandhill Cranes

Lara Miller, 
Natural Resource Agent
Their call cannot be mistaken, a sound of a rattling trumpets from far reaches of the sky. Standing at almost 4 feet tall with long legs and a long neck, they are hard to miss and hard to mistake with any other bird. Sandhill cranes are typically found in small family groups or pairs with numbers increasing during winter as non-resident cranes migrate down from the north. Florida sandhill cranes (a non-migratory subspecies) will stay with the same mate for several years while young cranes only stay with their parents for about 10 months. You are most likely to see a sandhill crane in open pastures and prairies or wetland areas; however, it’s not unusual to find them in more urban areas such as golf courses, airports, etc. Keep in mind if you should see one in an urban setting, it is illegal to feed them per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Code 68A-4.00(3).

As with most laws and regulations, there is reasoning behind them. Florida’s sandhill cranes are a threatened species. The feeding of this bird puts citizens and the species at risk. Cranes that are fed by humans can become aggressive and thus attack causing personal injuries. Furthermore, urban settings are filled with windows, screened porches and shiny cars which may be damaged by these birds searching for food or mistaking their reflection for another bird, causing a territorial response. Their attraction to urban settings also puts them at risk for being struck by cars as they cross neighborhood roads in search of food. Young cranes are particularly at risk from attack by domestic pets such as cats and dogs as well as pesticide poisoning from neighborhood lawns. Human food does not make up part of a sandhill crane’s natural diet (seeds, plant tubers, grains, berries, insects, earthworms, mice, snakes, lizards, frogs, and crayfish) and can thus disrupt their digestive system. The foods which make up a crane’s diet are abundant in the natural environment and thus there is no need for supplemental food from humans.

If you wish to learn more about the Florida sandhill crane and its conservation, plan to attend “Florida Sandhill Crane Conservation”, an educational program on Saturday, January 19th from 10:00-11:00am at Brooker Creek Preserve. Learn about Florida sandhill crane populations, their life cycles, their habitats and special organizations that help the cranes with all aspects of their health including prosthetics. We will cover in detail the many threats to sandhill cranes and important things people can do to protect them in their habitat.

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