Sandhill cranes are cherished members of the Florida ecosystem. They stand almost 4 feet tall and their bugling or rattling calls are haunting and beautiful. 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 and some unlikely places such as golf courses, airports and suburban subdivisions. This is probably due in part to the rapid development of their native habitat by humans. Cranes are probably attracted by the open setting (mowed grass) and availability of some foods (acorns, earthworms, mole crickets, turf grubs).
People inadvertently put them in harms way when they attract these birds to their yards with feed. Some “feeding” is accidental such as when bird seed is spilled from feeders by other animals onto the ground below making a nice feeding station for cranes. But, some people deliberately feed sandhill cranes. In 2002, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made it illegal to feed sandhill cranes (Florida Fish and Wildlife Code 68A-4.00(3)).
Why is feeding cranes prohibited?
Cranes fed by humans can become aggressive toward people. In several instances, children have been attacked by cranes. Cranes fed by humans 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 a territorial defense behavior (scratching at windows or shiny automobiles). Cranes also are more likely to tangle 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 (see photo). 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. People inadvertently put cranes in harms way when they attract these birds to their yards with feed. 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.