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Craneville hatches at Save Our Seabirds

Injured sandhill cranes get a home of their own at the City Island rescue and rehab facility.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 15, 2015
The new crane habitat houses 10 cranes and is the center’s largest habitat. Photos by Kristen Herhold
The new crane habitat houses 10 cranes and is the center’s largest habitat. Photos by Kristen Herhold
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It may not be a McMansion, but Sandhill cranes have new digs on City Island.

Craneville at Save Our Seabirds opened last month and now houses 10 rescued sandhill cranes, four of which have prosthetic legs.

“Before, the cranes with and without prosthetic legs were housed in different places,” CEO David Pilston said. “Now, with this new Craneville, they can all live together successfully.”

The new habitat took approximately one year to complete and includes 100% Florida native vegetation.

“The criteria when building this was to have it be with native plants, no pesticides or fertilizers, drought tolerant, soft on the birds’ feet, especially the prosthetic ones, and ground the birds can’t rip out, which they have the tendency to do,” Pilston said. “We also had to include enough feeding and water stations so the birds wouldn’t fight over it.”

The old crane habitat was filled mainly with sand. 

“They seem to be a lot happier with the grass,” SOS volunteer Karen Bennett said. “It’s so much better for their feet. The sand was not a natural surface for cranes. They don’t hang out on the beach, and they’re not used to walking on the sand. They prefer marshes and grassy areas.”

Many cranes are injured by human interference and interactions.

“We all love Florida, and that’s why we’re here, but with the habitat encroachment and constant building, people need to consider that it’s the cranes’ habitat too,” Bennett said. “We have to be aware and compassionate.”

SOS receives several dozen calls about injured cranes each year, mostly with injuries to their fragile legs. Many have injuries beyond repair, so they receive prosthetic legs created by Kevin Carroll, who also crafted Winter the dolphin’s artificial tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

“Sandhill cranes are very docile and very trusting creatures,” Pilston said. “They tend to cross the road without looking, which of course causes them to be frequently hit by cars. They’re also often seen on the golf course and can get hit by golf balls. We find these birds with impact injuries and those who have been poisoned with pesticides and fertilizers. Unfortunately, some of them come in too far gone for our help.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation banned feeding sandhill cranes in 2002.

“People don’t understand that you absolutely can’t feed them,” Pilston said. “They become further accustomed to people, which leads to more injuries.”

Although most crane injuries SOS sees are due to accidents, some, unfortunately, are not.

“The worst crane injury I’ve ever see was when a golfer got angry with one out on the course,” Pilston said. “He clubbed it with a golf club.”

The crane survived, but many others aren’t so lucky. The sanctuary’s ultimate goal is to release its rehabilitated birds, but when that’s not possible, Craneville becomes a permanent home. 

In addition to rescuing and rehabilitating birds, a major goal of SOS is education.

“People need to not feed them, watch out for them crossing the road and watch out when golfing,” Pilston said. “Reducing these injuries can be easy.”



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