Post by Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
Driving home from a long weekend at my sister’s house on Florida’s east coast back to my place in St. Petersburg (west coast) I witnessed something heart wrenching: I was cruising along the two-lane SR-710 north just over the Martin/Okeechobee line when I saw a bird in the road up ahead next to a road-killed animal – an all-too-frequent site on Florida roadways.
Cars and trucks swerved into the other lane to avoid hitting the bird, and I did the same. I was astounded that the bird didn’t fly off as the cars passed so closely, until I realized that the roadkill was a pileated woodpecker and the bird next to it was its mate! I quickly pulled to the side of the narrow shoulder, chased the live woodpecker off the road, grabbed the dead bird and tossed it about 30 feet from the road.
The experience was heartbreaking. What bond did those two birds share? As little as I cared to touch the dead bird, I wanted to save the mate from meeting the same tragic fate. I hope it realized quickly that its mate was dead and that it moved away from the road to get on with its life.
Sadly, Dan Smith, biology researcher at the University of Central Florida, told me that this happens more often than people may think. “We had three sandhill cranes killed at the same location within minutes of each other on I-4 two weeks ago,” he said. “Mates, siblings or offspring of their fallen companions do not recognize the danger of oncoming vehicles, yet are bound by instinct or biological imperative to investigate what’s wrong with their companions.”
SR-710 is a rural road that runs south to southeast from SR-70, from Okeechobee County through Martin County to Palm Beach County. It bisects significant acreages of healthy public conservation lands and is planned to be widened in three different sections in the coming years. Along that road, I’ve seen roadkill of all kinds, including mammals like otters and bobcat, birds like turkeys and hawks, and reptiles like alligators and turtles. These are accidental but tragic losses, and serve a strong reminder that we share our roads not only with other vehicles, but a rich array of wildlife. We should do everything we can keep them safe.
Slow down and watch out for wildlife – reducing your speed will increase your response time to avoid colliding with a crossing animal. See Defenders’ Top 10 Tips to help you stay safe on the road.