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Folks flock to protect crossing cranes

Watch out for Sandhill Cranes crossing Lakeville Rd. in Oxford. Photo by Lance Farrell. (click for larger version)
June 13, 2012 - "I was absolutely heartbroken," said Caroline McLean, proprietor of Caroline's Shear Inspirations Hair Salon. She's referring to the baby Sandhill Crane destroyed by an inattentive motorist on Lakeville Road last week.

On May 20, a call came into the Oxford Village Police Department about a Sandhill Crane injured on Lakeville Rd. Both parents were present with the injured chick, and as bystanders attempted to aid the little one (known as a colt), the parents remained at hand, protecting the chick to the last, -- and obstructing traffic in the process.

The little colt eventually died, leaving mother and father crane with a single chick to raise. You can see them as they cross twice daily close by the Beaver Stair on Lakeville Rd.

Julie Fischer, who has worked at the Beaver Stair for thirty-two years, said the pair of cranes showed up only two years ago. Last year the pair crossed to Oxford Hills Lake; this year they seem to prefer Willow Lake.

Fischer said that these two have caused no trouble for the Beaver Stair's business or the neighborhood property. The only harm they've caused is "stopping traffic," Fischer said.

Fischer's neighbor across the road, James McGowen, expressed frustration over his attempts to save the birds from harm. "I first contacted the police on May 11th, and then the first baby bird got hit on May 30th. So far the score is 1-0 against the birds," McGowen said.

To remedy the deadly situation, McLean called the road commission of Oakland County about putting up a sign, and made her own as she awaited their response.

She said the birds are sometimes hard to see, partially because they blend in due to their coloration, and in part because they cross very close to a big curve that shields them from the full view of oncoming motorists.

Though the speed limit is 25 mph, it's common to see drivers well in excess of that posted maximum, McLean said.

Craig Bryson, Public Information Officer of the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) commiserated with the Oxford residents about the unfortunate fowl, but said that the RCOC tends to frown on these sort of signage requests.

First, Bryson quipped, the "birds don't tend to read the signs." On a more serious note, he said, the idea that signage will make the birds any safer is "at the least, questionable. There really is no evidence that the signs will make any difference to the safety of the birds," Bryson said.

Bryson said that the RCOC gets these kind of requests frequently, and usually denies them.

It's not because they're unsympathetic to wildlife, he said, but since the top priority for the RCOC is the safety of the humans driving, warning signs need to address dangers that occur more frequently.

Michigan has many driving hazards: falling rocks, darting squirrels, startled deer; the list is virtually endless. Deer appear with more frequency and are much larger animals, so they have warranted the signs we see on road sides across the state.

Bryson also said that studies have shown that drivers will disregard future signs if they have experience with signs that seem not represent a real threat.

So, if the cranes are not present the bulk of the time, not only will the crane crossing sign be ignored, but, since the driver is now conditioned to expect nothing from that sign, other signs are more likely to be ignored as well. And that makes us less safe in the long run.

Ultimately, Bryson concluded, the responsibility is on the drivers to operate vehicles at a speed that enables them to react in case road hazards occur.

The Sandhill Crane is a federally protected bird under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But while non-migratory populations of the crane are on the endangered list in Mississippi and Florida, the Michigan populations are doing very well, said Tom Cooper, Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For now, the Sandhill Cranes on Lakeville Rd. rely on you, the driver, for their safety.

So, slow down and watch out for those baby birds!

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