110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Dec 16, 2012 - 4:55:56pm
Looking like a contortionist, an adult greater sandhill crane stood on one leg, twisted his long neck around, and scratched his back with his bill. These birds are a common sight here in Central Florida and ought to be a little more fearful of people. But I see them walking on the grass next to busy highways with cars zooming by, or near a local outdoor market with people scurrying about.
Usually, the sandhill cranes are safe because they can simply fly away when danger is near, but they do get hurt sometimes. Although they are gregarious, one should not get too close. Those dark bills can easily stab you.
Greater sandhill cranes are gray-plumed beauties measuring about 46 inches tall, with a 77-inch wingspan. Their long dark legs and big feet easily support their 10-pound body. Each one has a distinctive featherless red "hat." The males are a little larger than the females.
These delightful monogamous birds nest during late winter and spring in shallow water on mats of vegetation about 2 feet in diameter. Usually two eggs are laid, and are incubated for 30 days by both parents. Fuzzy yellow chicks hatch, and often the parents can only care for one. The first one will get the most attention, unless the two hatch at nearly the same time; then the parents can care for both. The chick or chicks are dependent upon their parents for food for many months.
Greater sandhill cranes' home stretches across most of North America and into eastern Siberia, in pastures, prairies, and freshwater wetlands, and at airports, golf courses, and even urban neighborhoods. Sandhill cranes do not fish for food, but have a diet of acorns, earthworms, crickets, grubs, seeds, roots, corn, peanuts, snakes, lizards, frogs and mice.
Usually traveling in a small group of two or three, greater sandhill cranes love to announce when they are flying, and their long, unusual "hkarrrrr" like a bugle can be heard for miles. With their necks straight ahead and their legs straight behind, they fly like a yardstick with graceful wings.
During non-breeding months, large flocks of hundreds of these birds gather in Nebraska and other areas of the U.S. There are six subspecies of sandhill cranes, but the greater sandhill cranes that live here in Florida are not among the Nebraska groups.
Enjoy being neighbors of these wonderful birds!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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