“What-Is-It?” ~ people had been asking about a strange bird being seen around a coastal section of Virginia. Then people started taking photographs, like this one.
Bob Hume had a big surprise driving up Colley Avenue in Norfolk recently when he had to slow down to avoid hitting a large bird ambling across the street, wrote Mary Reid Barrow at The Virginian-Pilot on May 17, 2009.
“I slowed to miss it and realized with a shock that I was staring at a sandhill crane,” Hume wrote. “I had seen a couple before in south Florida, but I knew very well they are nowhere close to being local to this area.”
Hume, who lives on Hanover Avenue, would have been hard-pressed to confuse this long-necked, long-legged bird with anything else. Stylish and graceful, sandhill cranes are almost 4 feet tall and sport a handsome red crown.
He stopped traffic to let the bird cross the street, then tried to take its photo with his cell phone.
Hume may have been among the first in town to spot the first sandhill crane ever reported in Norfolk. David Clark, president of the Cape Henry Audubon Society, said no record of a sandhill crane exists in the city.
The bird later made its presence well known by spending a day outside the WHRO television studios on Hampton Boulevard, said Wendy Hazel, WHRO’s Education Office manager. (See photo at top.)
“At first, it wandered around the parking lot and then found a nice shady spot in the flower bed outside of the office of Bert Schmidt, our president and CEO,” Hazel wrote in e-mail.
“WHRO staff started referring to the crane as either Big Bird or Ernie (since he seemed to want to be near Bert)!” she added.
Several members of the Cape Henry Audubon Society, including Clark, who lives nearby, came to see the bird and photograph it.
It appeared to be checking its image in Schmidt’s office window, perhaps seeking a mate or hoping to drive off a possible competitor.
Most sandhill cranes migrate between Texas and New Mexico and Canada, but Norfolk’s crane probably was one of a smaller group that breeds in the Great Lakes area and winters in Florida, Clark speculated. It may have flown off course on its migration back to its breeding grounds.
“Some wander a bit,” Clark said. “A few hundred miles for a bird like a sandhill crane is no big deal.”
Clark checked “Virginia’s Birdlife: An Annotated Checklist,” a publication of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, which notes that recorded sightings of sandhill cranes in Virginia over the years have been rare. Most sightings have been from the Eastern Shore, and three have been from the Back Bay area of Virginia Beach.
“It’s nice to be able to add Norfolk to that list,” Clark said.
And it also would have been nice for Clark to have been able to add the crane to his list of backyard birds, an opportunity he missed by just six blocks!
Later in the week, the crane was again spotted wandering on Colley Avenue, in danger of being hit by a car.
Volunteers from Wildlife Response captured it and took it to wildlife rehabilitator Lisa Barlow in Virginia Beach, who found the bird to be “underweight but very active and alert.”
After a few days on a healthy diet, the crane was successfully released into the wild, writes Mary Reid Barrow.