The Sandhill Crane
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
Floridian wildlife enthusiasts have no trouble keeping busy with all the marine life that swims about. Everyone loves a good fishing or whale watching story, and you will be like to hear more than your fair share of those if you spend enough time in any drinking hole on this island! Although, there are many members of Florida’s ecosystem that are cherished and observed that live above the blue. The Sandhill Crane is one of the many aviary beauties birdwatchers would be difficult to miss. They are very long-legged, gray, heron-like birds and have a patch of bald and red skin on the very top of their head. The fly with their necks stretched all the way out, very similar to geese. Florida is home to two of the Sandhill Crane subspecies. The Florida Sandhill crane are non-migratory birds which are joined in the winter months by over 25,000 migratory Greater Sandhill cranes. While the Florida crane stays around, the migratory species spend their warmer months in the Great Lakes area. These species of crane can grow to stand nearly 4 feet tall making them one of the larger ones on record. If you wish to see a Sandhill Crane, you can catch them migrating between wide open pastures, prairies, and all about the freshwater wetlands on the peninsula of Florida. They occur all the way from the Everglades to the infamous Okefenokee Swamp. There are several other areas they may pop up as well. Golf courses, airports, and even urban subdivisions have been known to play host to these giant birds. Given their native habitats are being ever aggressively developed, they are likely to make an appearance on your front lawn if you are lucky enough and live near their natural occurring habitat.
These omnivorous birds do quite well on their own with their diet consisting of creatures like crickets, lizards, snakes, earthworms, and the turf grubs that are so readily available. For that and a few other very serious reasons, we should NEVER feed these birds or any other wildlife. People are consistently – though inadvertently – putting these birds in harm’s way when they attempt to attract the cranes into their yard with birdfeed or other food. Sometimes, the birds get fed domestically on accident from bird-feeder spillage. I would recommend that be the only way they get food from us, being that the office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a law prohibiting feeding them in 2002. It’s also worth mentioning that they did so with very good reason. Sandhill cranes can become aggressive towards people if fed by human hands. There have been several instances where children have even been attacked by cranes. The birds can cause total damage to screened-in areas, windows and shiny automobiles. This is because they see their reflection in some objects, thus provoking them to enter a territorial and defensive state. But we aren’t the only ones at risk.
Whenever cranes are fed in urban areas, they begin to frequent the area. This makes for a lot of birds trying to cross the road. So that answer’s that age old question, at least for cranes anyway! They are also forced to fly near power lines in order to get to these areas to feed, which has resulted in fatal outcomes in many instances. Furthermore, given that the naturally occurring habitat provides such a diverse diet, the constant feeding on something like corn can disrupt the bird’s digestive health. Also, the heavy amount of fertilizers and pesticide-type chemicals that people use so generously can make your front lawn nothing less than toxic to these birds.
Speaking broadly now, it is never a good idea to feed the wildlife that is indigenous – or an often occurrence – in your area. You disrupt a very well defined diet and living pattern for the animals when doing so. They do need our mindful protection. While feeding a creature that is hungry may seem like a form of such protection, it simply is not! On behalf of these delicate and turf grub-loving beings, please do not feed us! We got this! Although, there is no need for concern for these birds if you happen to see them in a local setting. They are beautiful to observe and you should absolutely do just that. There are a few ways that we can help protect these birds near our homes. If you live in an area frequented by avian wildlife, cover your shinier surfaces – such as cars and windows – during the timeframe which the birds are in the area. You might also use less insecticide-type chemicals. The presence of these birds will serve as a natural pest control service as they love mole crickets and beetle grubs for lunch. Nothing like free pest removal.
Enjoy and help protect Florida’s wildlife by checking in right here or obtaining information online or from your local conservation involved committees and clubs.
Check out our Destination Tours to Greyfield Inn, Cabin Bluff and Historic St. Mary’s. You might see some of the cranes in that area.