Sandhill cranes aren't simply crossing the road to get to the other side.


They're eating — on the grassy curbside or walking through traffic to the median to hunt for worms, crickets and grubs.


The birds and their chicks are attracted to lawns, golf courses and roadsides because the mown grass makes it easier to find food, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.


Not easily missed, the 4-foot-tall adult birds have become accustomed to humans and have been known to stroll right into the street in search for handouts from drivers.



Spring can be deadly for sandhill cranes as adults busy feeding and guarding their chicks are less wary of passing cars, especially if they've been conditioned to getting handouts from humans. TYLER TREADWAY/TCPALM


The practice can be deadly for the "threatened" Florida bird.


Sandhill cranes nest during late winter and spring. Baby birds are able to follow their parents in search for food just 24 hours after hatching, and are often accidentally hit and killed by drivers.


The parents don't scare easy. If a car is approaching while a sandhill crane and its chicks are in the roadway, the adult won't fly off and leave its young undefended — which can be deadly to both the parent and the chick.


Cranes will eat just about anything: seeds, grain, berries, insects, worms, mice, small birds, snakes, lizards, frogs and crayfish, according to the FWC website.


People food is not part of their natural diet, though. Feeding sandhill cranes is illegal because it trains the birds not to fear humans, including those in oncoming cars.


How to ID a sandhill crane:


– Height: 4-feet


– Wingspan: 6.5-feet


– Color: Gray, with a patch of red skin on top of the head


– The bird has a unique flight and can be seen flying with its neck completely stretched out.


Sandhill crane facts:


– Two types of sandhill cranes can be found in Florida:


– If you see a pair, family or small group, they're probably among the 4,000 to 5,000 members of the Florida sandhill crane subspecies, non-migratory year-round residents.


– Large flocks of birds are probably among the 25,000 in the greater sandhill crane subspecies, which migrate annually.


Florida wildlife: 10 most dangerous wild animals


Cranes are monogamous breeders. Courtship consists of dancing, which features jumping, running and wing flapping.


Females lay two eggs that incubate for 32 days. At 10 months old, juveniles are able to leave their parents.


The sandhill crane is a close relative to the nearly extinct whooping crane.


Adult sandhill cranes weigh about 12 pounds. Males are larger than females, but external markings are identical.


Cranes live to be older than most birds, some reaching 20 years old.


Catie Wegman is a community reporter who also produces "Ask Catie," an occasional feature to find answers to your burning questions about anything and everything — the more bizarre the better. Support her work with a TCPalm subscription. Contact her at catie.wegman@tcpalm.com or 772-221-4211 and follow her @Catie_Wegman on Twitter and @catiewegman1 on Facebook.


This story originally published to tcpalm.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.