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.

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(Credit: Phil Kates)

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.

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International Crane Foundation

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.

On a sunny, warm day, a Florida sandhill crane sits on the nest, protecting the eggs, while its partner is away looking for food. The cranes built the nest by pulling up grasses from the surrounding wetlands, creating a platform that is only slightly above the waterline. Cows graze on higher ground behind the birds, fluffy clouds float in the sky, and all is peaceful.

On a sunny, warm day, a Florida sandhill crane sits on the nest, protecting the eggs, while its partner is away looking for food. The cranes built the nest by pulling up grasses from the surrounding wetlands, creating a platform that is only slightly above the waterline. Cows graze on higher ground behind the birds, fluffy clouds float in the sky, and all is peaceful.

It gets dangerous after dark. Suddenly, the sandhill crane is attacked, its legs flying up in the air. Taken by surprise, it is unable to defend itself. What creature does this large bird have to fear?

It gets dangerous after dark. Suddenly, the sandhill crane is attacked, its legs flying up in the air. Taken by surprise, it is unable to defend itself. What creature does this large bird have to fear?

A bobcat stands guard over its catch, and then carries the bird’s body away. Because human population is ever-increasing, sandhill cranes and bobcats share the same ever-shrinking patches of open land left available to them.

A bobcat stands guard over its catch, and then carries the bird’s body away. Because human population is ever-increasing, sandhill cranes and bobcats share the same ever-shrinking patches of open land left available to them.

Within twenty minutes, raccoons find the eggs on the unattended nest and luck into an unexpected dinner. The raccoons, sharing the same shrinking wild land areas with the sandhill cranes and the cougar, have learned to watch the large predators, wait for their kill, and follow behind them to take the eggs.

Within twenty minutes, raccoons find the eggs on the unattended nest and luck into an unexpected dinner. The raccoons, sharing the same shrinking wild land areas with the sandhill cranes and the cougar, have learned to watch the large predators, wait for their kill, and follow behind them to take the eggs.


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.

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