MANATEE -- At least eight sandhill cranes have been hit by cars in the past month, and local residents are blaming speeders.
The big, lanky birds, a threatened species in Florida, walk with a deliberate gait and are getting struck on heavily traveled roads -- especially U.S. 301 between Old Tampa and Chin roads, and on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard between State Road 70 and University Parkway.
Parrish resident Margie Ford said she has seen two sandhill cranes either injured or dead in the road in just the past week.
If a crane isn't killed on impact, it'll likely be injured with a broken wing or leg. If a crane's bone, which is hollow, has a clean break, it could be saved and make a full recovery, said Dan Fansler, managing director and president of the Wildlife Rescue Service of Florida, the nonprofit organization that picked up the birds.
But a serious broken leg or wing can mean death for a crane.
"If the bone doesn't heal well enough, then they can't put weight on it," Fansler said.
Ford says speeding is a problem on U.S. 301 and believes careless driving is hurting the birds.
"If you're not going 60 or 70 miles per hour on that road...people practically run you off," she said. "Sandhill cranes are huge. How could you miss them?"
The number of speeding tickets issued on both roads was not available from the Manatee County Sheriff's office, the Clerk of Court or the Florida Highway Patrol.
A driver cannot be prosecuted for hitting a sandhill crane unless it was done on purpose, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"Occasionally you will find someone who just has some issues and then we will have to do an investigation, but that is extremely rare," Morse said. "Most people value the birds -- and they don't want to have to pay for damage to their vehicle."
According to a study done by the U.S. Geological Survey, there were between 4,000 and 6,000 Florida sandhill cranes in 1994.
Ford, a volunteer with the Florida Audubon Eagle Watch program who monitors a nearby eagle's nest, wishes drivers would slow down and be conscious of the road.
"The cranes are so big and slow," she said. "It's not like they run out in front of your car like squirrels."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.