Migrating Sandhill Cranes make presence known in Brevard


Migratory Sandhill Cranes forage in open fields.

SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of Jim Eager


Florida, on a migratory flyway, has many memorable birds that visit the area. The Sandhill Crane is one of the most recognizable in Brevard County.

Depending on the subspecies and gender, it stands up to 4 feet, 5 inches tall with a wingspan ranging to as much as 7 feet, 7 inches. It has a grayish body, long legs for walking and foraging, and a noticeable large, red patch of skin on its forehead and crown.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, two types live in Florida — the Florida Sandhill Crane, which does not migrate, and the Greater Sandhill Crane, which does.

The Sandhill Crane is among the oldest living species of birds, dating back 2.5 million years, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Cranes are among the oldest living birds on the planet. Fossil records place Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska more than nine million years ago, long before there was a Platte River. By comparison, the Platte River is only a youthful 10,000 years old, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The Sandhills along the Platte River of Nebraska, is the location for the Sandhill Cranes’ legendary Great Migration stopover. They have been using the area for millennia to rest and fuel up before heading to their breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Many people journey to the Great Plains to witness the birds in the hundreds of thousands, darkening the skies, fields and river banks. The spring stopover gathering is “among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent,” according to the National Audubon Society.

“In Viera, they [Sandhill Cranes] are sometimes spotted at Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands,’’ said Elliot Zirulnik, the communication manager of the Brevard Zoo.

Jim Eager a birder and tour guide owner of Obsessive Compulsive Birding, said “Florida Sandhill Cranes can be seen in the residential areas of the Viera community.”

The birds also can be spotted in southern Brevard County in areas such as Barefoot Bay, and other parts of the county, usually traveling in small groups.

“They are monogamous and it’s always a treat to see parents with their chicks [called colts] — they [the adults] are enormous,’’ Zirulnik said. “I like to call them ‘Florida ostriches.’ ”

Carter, the resident Sandhill Crane at the Brevard Zoo, was rescued. She cannot fly because of a wing injury.