A Cute Story of Sandhill Surrogacy

SeaWorld Orlando’s Aviculture Team Pair Orphaned Chick with Rescued Sandhill Crane

While caring for two rescued sandhill cranes – an injured adult and an orphaned chick – SeaWorld’s aviculture team put their problem-solving skills to work to create a successful surrogacy. A few weeks ago, an adult sandhill crane was brought to SeaWorld with a rubber gasket around his bill. Not only was the crane incapable of eating, but the proper growth of its bill was also in jeopardy.

Once SeaWorld’s veterinarians removed the gasket, the aviculture team spent weeks giving the sandhill around-the-clock care. Thankfully, the adult sandhill crane has had a right-on-schedule recovery, and he just so happened to make a friend while doing so.

While caring for the adult crane, SeaWorld’s team rescued a newly hatched sandhill crane chick. Years of experience told the team that if a chick isn’t around other cranes during its early months, the possibility of imprinting on a human increases, making it difficult to return the chick to the wild when ready.

The team came up with a unique solution: Pair the two birds together.

It is sometimes difficult for orphaned chicks to be tolerated by older cranes that are not familiar with them, but when the adult crane was placed with the orphaned chick, they took an instant liking to each other. The adult sandhill is currently acting as a surrogate, and the fuzzy chick is mimicking and learning crane behaviors, just like it would in the wild.

Eric Reece, SeaWorld’s Supervisor of Aviculture, adds, “The fact that the adult crane took to the chick bodes well for the development of the chick. It is now growing and doing well.”

So what does the future hold for these two pals? SeaWorld Orlando’s Aviculture Team plans to release the adult and chick together, once the chick learns to fly and the adult is fully recovered.

The Cuban sandhill and Mississippi sandhill are both subspecies of cranes that are listed as endangered and are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

SeaWorld’s animal rescue team is on call 24/7 to save and care for injured, orphaned or ill animals.

Picture #1: *Picture of chick and adult sandhill* If orphaned sandhill chicks aren’t around other sandhill cranes during their early months, they could imprint on humans. This dramatically decreases their chances of survival when they are released back into the wild.

Picture #2: *Picture of chick alone* This orphaned chick needed to be around other cranes in order to learn specific crane behaviors.

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One Response to A Cute Story of Sandhill Surrogacy

  1. catcalls says:

    Is that little guy ever cute!
    Your comment about the imprinting is so true. We hatched a duckling once – the only one to survive – and WE were the parents. He followed us on walks, let us pick him up, and would even come in the house. Though cute, I was always worried that he would get hurt by someone. My son named him Gramu and he lived with us for quite some time!

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