Living with Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill cranes are iconic members of the Florida ecosystem. They stand almost 4 feet tall and their bugling or rattling calls are frequently heard in natural areas or overhead. Sandhill cranes occur in pastures, open prairies and freshwater wetlands in peninsular Florida from the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp.
Florida sandhill cranes are present in many urban areas including golf courses, airports and suburban subdivisions. This is due in part to the rapid development of their native habitat by humans. Cranes are attracted by open settings (mowed grass) and the availability of foods such as acorns, earthworms, mole crickets and turf grubs.
Why is feeding cranes prohibited?
People may inadvertently put sandhill cranes at risk when they attract them with feed. This includes "accidental feeding," such as when bird seed is spilled from bird feeders onto the ground below. In 2002, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made it illegal to intentionally feed sandhill cranes (Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.001(6)).
- When cranes are fed and learn to associate people with food, they can lose their fear of humans. These “habituated” cranes may approach people closely and even grab food out of a person’s hand. In rare instances, cranes have been reported pecking people.
- Cranes also have been known to damage window screens and do other property damage. This behavior is probably a response of the birds to seeing their reflection, bringing out territorial defense behaviors such as scratching at windows or shiny automobiles.
- Cranes are more likely to become entangled in human garbage in areas populated by people.
- Cranes are more likely to crash into power lines in urban areas where such aerial hazards are concentrated.
- Cranes attracted to people's yards for feed are put at risk as they walk across roads. Many sandhill cranes are killed each year on Florida roads.
- Attracting cranes to urban areas increases the threat of predation (especially to young cranes) by dogs or cats.
- Further, the cranes' diets, which normally are quite diverse, are disrupted when they eat one food item (such as corn), consistently.
- Heavy pesticide use in urban lawns also is of concern. Young sandhill cranes have died from pesticide poisoning.
It's never a good idea to feed wildlife. Florida sandhill cranes have an abundance of natural foods (insects and small animals) and they do not need handouts from humans. There are many reasons why cranes should not be intentionally fed by humans. For the good of the cranes, please do not feed them.
Four things you can do to better coexist in "Crane Country"
- Never feed cranes and encourage your neighbors not to feed cranes. Cranes are less likely to inhabit urban areas if easy meals are not provided.
- Cover or move automobiles so that cranes cannot see their reflections in the shiny surfaces. Windows or glass doors that the cranes attack can be temporarily covered with material so that the birds do not see their reflections.
- Temporarily cover windows or screens. A string mounted on stakes about 2.5 feet off the ground will provide an exclusion "fence" around the parts of homes (window or pool screens) that are being damaged by cranes.
- Accept some digging for food. Cranes sometimes damage lawns and gardens as they dig for food such as mole crickets and beetle grubs. The birds, in this case, provide natural "biological control" of these common pests of turf.