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100 Dead Squirrels

February 17, 2010

In 1986, I learned as a teenager never to exaggerate anything that can be proven to be untrue. After our home in Venice, Florida escaped the passing of a tropical storm, I investigated the wind and rain damage and infamously reported discovering “100 dead squirrels”. My family was full of fact checkers and when I couldn’t turn up one live squirrel, they decided to torment me for the rest of my life. From that day forward every outlandish statement anyone made was met with “yeah right. And there are 100 dead squirrels.”

When my friend and wildlife scout Milla texted me that she had found 500 Sandhill Cranes in a field in Ortona, FL, I told her to stop licking Cane Toads. She sent a picture and a set of coordinates and offered me the task of checking it out myself.

Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) range throughout North America but the Florida Sandhill Crane (G.c. pratensis), which is non-migratory, is considered an endangered subspecies, numbering about 4000 birds. The thin, four foot tall, grayish-brown birds with red caps are not differentiated by physical appearance, but by their migratory behaviors. The northern subspecies arrive in the Sunshine State around October and leave around March, while the Florida subspecies enjoy the rays year round.

Urban development of the prairies and pasturelands of central Florida has led to the decline of the Florida subspecies. On the bright side, the unusually rainy winter of 2010 promises to be a boon for the birds as nest success increases in wet winters.

Although I have seen pairs of Florida Sandhills from time to time, the massive flock of birds that I spotted in the sod farm near Ortona was most certainly a flock of northern “snowbirds”. These sandhills were probably feasting on insects, worms and to the chagrin of the sod farmers, grass seed.

The flock was spread a mile wide across the pasture, with as many birds taking to the air. My photographs suggest the number of sandhills was around one thousand. Truly a spectacle, and not a single dead squirrel to be found.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael W. Corradino permalink
    February 26, 2010 9:07 am

    As the “Official Dead Squirrel Checker” I have to add my two cents, or two Sandhill Cranes. We live in South Lake County Florida where the cranes show up in our yards almost daily. Throughout most of the year they stay in pairs and occasionally a double pairs. When their chicks are born, the family will temporarily increase until they are old enough to go off on their own. But every so often, all the local cranes will merge into a flock, eating together, soaring together for a day or two. And then just as abruptly break up into pairs again. Fun to watch at any time.

  2. Jcubed permalink
    February 26, 2010 9:45 am

    Do they usually migrate / congregate in these very large packs?

    • April 28, 2010 4:22 pm

      The Florida Sandhills don’t form massive flocks like this one. Although I was in Florida, these are the northern subspecies that congregate before migrating. Why some go and some stay is a mystery to me.

  3. Brian permalink
    February 26, 2010 6:43 pm

    Tara confirmd that you did indeed claim that there was “100 dead squirrels”….

  4. Emily Brochu permalink
    April 1, 2010 1:20 pm

    Neat!

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