Slowing but gracefully they stroll. In pairs and often large groupings, sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) make their way daily across our roadways. Here in Deltona, Florida where I live this routine unfortunately includes tragedy for these gentle giants.
Like many forms of wildlife, sandhill cranes travel from place to place during the day. Sometimes flying but mostly by walking, these gray heron-like birds with their red capped heads and long neck and legs run the gauntlet of our roadways. One particular location along Newmark Drive between Treehaven Drive and Salters Court has become especially deadly for these beautiful birds.
Winding its way between lakes, Newmark Drive along this stretch winds through remnants of lakeside pine and oak hammock and forms a natural corridor for these cranes to journey from Lakes Elizabeth and Theresa to forage their bordering grassy plains. Despite posted lowered speed limits (35 mph) along Newmark Drive, motorists race down this road whipping around the curves that cut through this wildlife corridor. Over the span of two years, I have seen the contorted crumpled feather masses of five of these precious creatures.
On one occasion, I arrived on the scene immediately after another vehicle has plunged through a group of sandhills crossing the road leaving one sprawled on the roadside. Pulling over, I went to the poor bird. I was brought to tears as its colorfully brilliant eye gazed up at me in a frozen stare. There was nothing I could do but drag it from the road into the grass hoping its passing would be more gentler there.
At other times, while going along Newmark and other roadways I have witnessed motorists driving at high rates of speed up to sandhill cranes almost as if they deliberately intended to hit them. Quick jogs, which by the way are commonly necessary for a sandhill to take flight, in these cases have been the only reason more sandhills have not been hit-and-run victims. While walking my dog, I stood in awe as one driver rapidly approached two sandhills, only to brake at the last minute as the birds attempted to remove themselves from the road. I yelled at the driver and he looked back at me with a shocked expression like he was surprised.
This kind of driving behavior and wanton callousness on the part of motorists prompted me to write my City Commissioner pleading for the posting of warning signs along Newmark Drive. I’ve seen these kinds of visual warning signs along other roadways and wondered why our own community had not already put them in place. It made me wonder how many sandhill cranes have to die from hit-and-run drivers before we realize there’s a problem?
Two signs were placed along Newmark Drive some time after that. They might have helped because I hadn’t seen any more fatalities but motorists continued to speed along the road. Several times, I would stop my vehicle and wait for a group of sandhill cranes to cross the road in front of me. In most cases, the other motorists behind and in-front of me were patient and courteous enough to do the same, but that is not always been the case.
A three months ago, one of the signs along Newmark, the one approaching Timbercrest from the west disappeared. Shortly thereafter, I spied the tangled body of a sandhill along the roadway where I recalled the sign had been while driving home from work. Then, last evening as I returned home along Newmark there was yet another dead sandhill crane lying beneath the oaks trees in one of the curves in the road. What is the problem with people that they cannot yield the right of way to these birds? I have to wonder if these hit-and-run drivers are the same people who seem to hit turtles trying to cross a road? An animal like a deer, cat, or dog darting across the road is one thing but something crossing as slowly as sandhill cranes do shouldn’t be a no-brainer for a typical driver. If sandhill cranes face this kind of danger on a regular basis, what kind of hazard might some impaired person face?
We really have to rethink some things because the way we often treat other creatures in our world reflects something about how we regard our fellow humans.