Uneasy Neighbors: Florida’s Cranes and People
by Carol Wise
Increasing human population and loss of natural habitat means that Florida’s two species of cranes are living closer and closer to people. Both Florida sandhill cranes and whooping crane roost and nest in shallow marshes and forage for food in open upland and wetlands. Forced into suboptimal habitat, the cranes are being harmed and are causing damage to people’s homes, gardens, cars, and office buildings. During nesting season, they can even injure people that they see as a threat to their nests or newly hatched chicks.
Florida sandhill cranes are four-foot-tall gray birds with striking red foreheads. Approximately 5,000 of them live in Florida. They are listed as a threatened species in Florida, primarily because of habitat loss.
Whooping cranes are five-foot tall white birds with red crowns. Approximately 600 whooping cranes remain in the world. Whooping cranes lived in the eastern United States until the 1950s, and in Florida until the 1930s.
Conservation efforts involving both wild and captive whooping cranes have increased the population from about 20 birds in the 1940s to approximately 600 today. While this is a heartening comeback, whooping cranes are still endangered. Because whooping cranes are so rare, each bird is carefully tracked. Chicks born to wild birds are especially important, because their parents teach them how to be cranes, something cranes are much better at than humans.
Listen as Tim Dellinger of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission searches for a missing adolescent wild-born whooping crane chick.
As human population increases, we use more and more land for ourselves. This puts pressure on all wildlife, forcing it to live in smaller and smaller spaces.
Imagine stopping your car to let a pair of four-foot tall red-headed sandhill cranes who live in your neighborhood to cross the street. Or stepping off the sidewalk to avoid making contact with an aggressive sandhill crane during nesting season so that she doesn’t see you as a threat to her chicks. As they live closer to our offices and homes, sandhill cranes can be a nuisance. There are easy ways to protect both the birds and your property.