The Empty Nest (Literally) Hits Home

My home is surrounded by preservation areas and wetlands of south Florida. Naturally, we have all the amazing wildlife around us that comes with this type of environment.  In fact, it was the wildlife and serene surroundings that called us to this area.

A female sandhill crane brooding
One of my favorite animals is the sandhill crane.  At an impressive size, adult males can grow to four feet tall, and with stunning red-crested heads, these birds grace us with their magnificence on a regular basis. The best time of year is late winter (if you can call what South Florida gets a winter) or early spring when their chicks are born. Sandhill cranes, like so many other birds, mate for life. They will typically produce one or two offspring each year. Those babies will stay with the mother and father for several months afterwards.

In early 2014, a bonded pair living in my development produced two chicks.  As babies they look like tall fluffy ducklings and are yellow in color.  For many months, my family and I have been observing the interaction between the parents and their offspring, as well as watching the chicks grow.

What you  need to know about sandhill cranes is that they are not shy creatures. Quite the contrary, actually.  They will walk right up to you.  And, trust me when I say their beaks, that measure about six or more inches and ending in a sharp point, can be quite menacing, particularly to those who aren't used to such brazen birds.  I have had to politely ask them to exit my garage! They have never done any damage and they never make a mess and they never pose any real threat at all. Not even when their chicks are around have I ever seen any aggressive behavior.

When the chicks first start venturing out with mom and dad, they stay glued to the mother. As they walk around the neighborhood, dad will position himself between you and his babies at all times. As the chicks grow, the parents will  put their guard down - just a little bit.

As I mentioned, we've been watching this particular family for about nine months and finally about a week ago it happened.......

Instead of the usual family of four, only three came walking past my house.  At first I was quite concerned that something may have happened to one of them. I looked closely at the birds.  The father, the tallest and always the friendliest, was definitely present.  The other two, now about the same size, were tougher to tell apart since the chicks were now as tall as the mother.  All of a sudden, as I was standing there within a couple of feet of them, they began to let out an intense cry.  If you've never heard a sandhill crane's call, check out the video at the bottom (and excuse the poor quality, but my phone was all that was accessible to me.)  It is very distinct and can be deafening from a distance - let alone three feet away.

The always friendly but protective male
They all were looking up at the sky.  I glanced up in the direction they were facing and, to my surprise honestly, saw another sandhill crane flying overhead and responding to their calls. However, the great bird did not come.  It was then that I realized what was going on. The three birds on my driveway were clearly dad, mom, and one chick. The bird in the sky was without question their second offspring who had flown the coop, literally. It was a little sad actually, to witness the inevitable departure from the family of a grown crane.  When the bird was no longer in sight the calls ceased and the three continued searching my lawn for bugs.

This morning on my walk, I passed my lovely friends again. And, when I say passed, I mean close enough to reach out and touch them if that beak wasn't so daunting.  But, instead of three, there were now only two.  Just mom and the usual friendly - or, perhaps, just very guarded - dad.  It hit me, their second chick had flown the coop as well.

It was quite sad for me actually.  As a mother of two boys that are growing up faster than people warned me they would, reality was staring me in the face. There will come a time when my two "hatchlings" will also fly the coop and, like all parents eventually must, my husband and I will face our own empty nest.

As I passed the pair on the sidewalk this morning, I couldn't help but stare at the mother and wonder if she felt any sense of loss.  In my heart, having seen how she cared for her chicks for so long, I believe the answer is yes.  However, unlike her human counterparts, she, at least, gets to look forward to doing it all over again!

I sure wish the pair brings their new chicks down to my house in a few months so I can meet them and start the process of observing this wonderful family unit all over again.


  1. They will always be closer then you think...

  2. I can't believe those big birds are walking around the place! They are amazing! Parenting is bitter-sweet you love seeing them grow up but you miss your helpless baba too!

    1. They are so funny, too! The other morning they were standing in front of my husband's car and he needed to back-up to take boys to school. I had to call them over to me, they thought my coffee mug was coffee, lol. They're magnificent!


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