(BLOOMINGTON) - A sandhill crane has spent the past six weeks at WildCare Inc., the wildlife rehabilitation facility west of Bloomington, and it's on track to be released soon.
WildCare has taken in several ill or injured sandhill cranes over the years, but none has survived. This one will.
WildCare's water bird team leader Amanda Wrigley explained the big bird's history.
In mid-May, a flock of sandhills spent the night in a New Albany subdivision, then headed north - except for this one.
On May 19, residents in the area became aware of this big bird because it was hanging out in their backyards. Some started feeding it.
It stuck around for three weeks, only flying short distances. As it became dependent on humans for foods, it became a nuisance, occasionally seeming to peek into their windows as it admired its own reflection, and then knocking on windows at 6 a.m., demanding breakfast.
When one neighbor threatened to shoot it, another called the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Conservation officers caught the bird and took it to the Dwight Chamberlain Raptor Center at Hardy Lake, near Scottsburg. But that facility is not equipped to handle cranes, so the next day, it was transported to WildCare.
Birds that are habituated with humans are both easier to deal with and more dangerous, Wrigley said.
The crane was covered with "honey dew," Wrigley said; that's the insect urine that's been dropping from tulip poplars this year.
The crane's entire left wing was drooping. The barbs of its wing feathers were stuck to the feather shaft, hard and crunchy.
At WildCare, a veterinarian checked out the bird and determined that it was undernourished and dehydrated, but had no broken bones or wounds. So the rehabbers started giving the bird showers with a hose several times a day. At first, the crane seemed to hate them, but during the hot days in early July, it didn't seem to mind so much, Wrigley said.
And at first, it didn't eat much. "Now, it eats like a pig," Wrigley said.
They feed it fruit, vegetables and mice -- only brown ones, though. And only brown eggs. Some birds have strong color preferences for their food, Wrigley said, and this bird won't eat black or white mice, or white eggs. At first, she bought brown quail eggs for the crane, but that got too expensive. Now, she paints white chicken eggs with mud, and hopes the bird doesn't wash them before eating them.
And it loves night crawlers. "I bet it would eat 100 night crawlers if we gave it to it," Wrigley said.
It has put on weight as its feathers have become clean, and it has resumed preening itself, which it didn't do when its feathers were in such bad shape.
Its left wing still droops a bit, but Wrigley is pretty sure the bird will be able to fly. Before releasing it, she'll verify that it can fly, and a veterinarian will have to give the green light.
Wrigley plans to take the crane to Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, where tens of thousands of sandhills congregate in the spring and fall.
There aren't any sandhill cranes there at this time of year, but there is plenty of food, and the habitat is suitable.
The crane is an older juvenile, 2 or 3 years old, so it probably has migrated north at least once before. It can decide whether it wants to venture to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Canada to rejoin its flock for the remainder of the summer, or hang out alone in the Greene County state fish and wildlife area until its buddies return in the fall.
Either way, its odds of survival are pretty good at this point.
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