Sunday, June 26, 2011

Murder in the Marsh - The Florida Sandhill Crane

“Someone just shot a Sandhill Crane in the marsh” I said with disgust. “Is that bad” a friend asked.

Yes that’s bad.

A)    The Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis), is listed as Endangered in Florida due to habitat loss and over hunting.
B)    Hunting of Sandhill Cranes is no longer permitted in Florida.
C)    The marsh where it was shot is off limits to hunting.
D)    The marsh where it was shot is within 300 yards of an elementary school
E)     I had just been riding my bike within the range of the shooter.

While a third of the Sandhill Crane population breeds in Canada and Alaska, the Florida subspecies is non-migratory and adults are rearing chicks right now. The marsh I visited has no less than four pairs of adult Sandhill Cranes. Presently at least two of those pairs have several week old chicks. Adults form long-term pair bonds and tend to their young for up to ten months. The marsh is ideal in that the cranes create a nest of debris and vegetation surrounded by water. They feed on insects, small vertebrates, like frogs and snakes and even they also eat seeds and fruits.

The marsh is a manmade stormwater filtration wetland but considering Sandhills lost most of their wetland habitat to drainage and suffered a subsequent population decline, they’ll take what they can get. What they don’t need is a random knuckle dragger using protected birds for target practice.

As my brother-in-law and I made our way towards the exit of the marsh trail, a shot rang out ahead of us. And another. The shooter turned, with rifle drawn on us, turned back to the Sandhill and fired. The bird went down with a wing flapping. Ibis, Anhingas, Herons and Sandhills joined a frenzy of squawks as they ascended and descended on the injured bird. I expected them to fly away but they were as traumatized as we were and seemed to be rallying around the wounded bird. One final shot and the adult bird was gone.

We raced home and called the sheriff, who was dispatched immediately. The shooter left before he arrived, but the single parent, mother of two Sandhill Crane fledglings remained. 


  1. It is unfortunate you were unable to describe the Neaderthal. Carrying a cell phone might have enabled you to contact the police immediately ... and in time for them to head off his escape. All "sport" hunting is inhumane, but the destruction of endangered species is especially heinous.

  2. actually I had a cell and called the police immediately. They were responsive but did not get there in time to nab the guy.