VERO BEACH — A motorist accidentally ran over a sandhill crane chick as a deputy was attempting to safeguard it late Tuesday afternoon west of the Indian River Mall.
"A sadder sight you never saw," said onlooker Tom Cerna.
The deputy remained at the scene to protect the bird's parents, which wouldn't leave their chick following the incident at about 6 p.m. Tuesday at the exit from Vista Plantation on 66th Avenue.
Cerna first came upon the scene as he turned into Vista Plantation and saw a deputy there directing traffic around the two adult cranes, which were on the asphalt watching over the chick that appeared to have problems walking.
But the motorist, coming south on 66th Avenue, "didn't maneuver his car properly and his rear right wheel went right over the chick and killed it," Cerna said.
The birds are common sights along the Treasure Coast and a popular subject for area photographers.
The chick isn't the first sandhill crane killed west of Vero Beach. Last year, an adult crane was fatally struck by a car in a parking lot a few miles away from Vista Plantation, said nesting bird survey coordinator Billi Wagner, of Vero Beach.
Sebastian has some streets marked with Sandhill Crossing signs, but Wagner said the main thing people can do to protect the cranes is to obey a state law that bans feeding them. Normally, they live off insects, frogs, seeds and roots.
"A fed crane is a dead crane," she said. Feeding attracts them to people and subdivisions, which have another attraction: stormwater retention ponds. Cranes make nests on mats of vegetation in shallow water, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Eggs typically start hatching around Valentine's Day.
Florida has an estimated 5,000 sandhill cranes that nest and live year-round in the state. Another 25,000 fly in from the north during the winter, but they don't nest, according to state officials.
The year-round birds are territorial and don't gather in flocks, she said. Cranes are three to four feet tall, but weight about 10 pounds. "They are all feathers and hollow bones," she said.