Bye, bye birdie
Crane treated at UF returned to the wild
By Sarah Carey and Karen Parker
Rescued from certain death in the muck at Orange Lake, a sandhill crane that was treated at the UF Small Animal Hospital in March and rehabilitated at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo was released back into the wild at a private lake near Hawthorne April 3.
It was what used to be known as a “Kodak moment,” with the crane gingerly testing the water, taking a drink, doing a wing-shake to right its feathers and trumpeting before slowly making its way away from a small group of onlookers. The group included representatives from UF, Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, which coordinated the event.
Three Lowry staff members, including a zookeeper, a technician and another assistant, drove the bird two-and-a-half hours from Tampa to the private property. After being released, the bird emitted a few calls, one of which was an attempt to make its presence known among other birds in the area, said FWC biologist Marty Folk.
“It’s kind of an ‘Is anybody out there’ call,” he said, adding that it was likely that by evening, other cranes in the area that were foraging elsewhere during the day would return to the area and join the bird.
Folk said sandhill cranes have a complex social structure, and the newcomer won’t be alone long.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission biologists rescued the bird March 2. Another crane that was also rescued did not survive. The cranes were hundreds of feet from shore and stuck in the muck, which one rescuer described as having the consistency of “brownie batter.” The rescue effort included a team of six people with rope, a kayak and wood planks, which the biologists used to reach the two trapped birds.
The surviving crane was taken to UF in critical condition but amazed veterinarians by showing marked signs of improvement in only a few days.
“This is a stellar example of teamwork,” Folk said. “FWC biologists rescued the crane, veterinarians at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine stabilized the bird and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo staff rehabilitated the animal so it could be released.”