Parent cranes stick with offspring

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The first call came about a month ago. A worker from Xcel Energy was driving past Yampa Valley Regional Airport and saw a sandhill crane that seemed hurt in a nearby field.

During the next four weeks, animal rehabilitator Tracy Bye got more than 20 calls about the bird.

She went out herself and quickly determined the young crane was injured and couldn't fly. She tried four times to catch the bird so she could bring it back to her home and help it, but she kept failing.

Each time, the crane would run away quickly, following its parents who flew just above it and led it through the field, across streams and under fences.

"We ran all the way to the power plant twice, chasing him," Bye said. She estimated the distance was at least 1 1/2 miles.

Bye runs Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Sanctuary, the only rehabilitation center of its kind in the region. She has helped wild animals recover since 1993 and now averages about 100 "patients" each year.

Last weekend, Bye was able to catch the injured crane in a big blanket and bring it to a veterinarian, where X-rays showed the bird had a seriously broken wing and would not be able to fly again.

The remarkable part of the experience, she said, is that the bird's parents stayed with him, even though it meant delaying their migration south to Mexico by more than a month.

Cranes are devoted animals, Bye said. They pair and stay with their mates for their entire lives, which can last more than two decades.

A pair can have one or two offspring each year, and they guide those offspring through migration.

The birds typically stay in the area no later than September, Bye said.

"I bet it would feel like anxiety almost because they have that feeling of 'I've gotta fly south, I've gotta fly south,'" Bye said.

Bye guessed that the pair probably was waiting for the younger crane to be able to fly. The group moved into the field near the airport because it offered easy access to grains, such as wheat and oats, that the birds eat, she said.

When Bye was catching the young bird, his parents were watching everything, she said.

Although she knew she could help give the bird a chance, she knew his parents probably didn't understand.

"It was so sad. They were watching everything, and I just felt like a kidnapper," Bye said. "I wish I could do their call for him, to call them down," she said referring to the calls cranes make to one another.

Since Bye has taken the bird, it looks as if the parents have started the long trip south. Now, Bye is focused on finding a sanctuary where the bird can live out a long life even though he cannot fly.

Anyone who sees an injured animal should leave the animal alone and contact Bye at 879-3747. To make a donation to Born Free Wildlife Sanctuary, contact Bye.

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