A sandhill crane that was captured in central Wisconsin with an arrow through her body was released Wednesday after what a veteran bird rehabilitator calls a truly amazing recovery.
Bird watcher Don Darnell from Eden Prairie, Minn., spotted the crane standing by the road near Wisconsin Rapids as he and his wife were driving through last Labor Day weekend.
"We couldn't believe it. This bird had an arrow clean through it," Darnell said. "We got out of the car to see if we could get a hold of it but it was too fast and got away."
They also alerted police and other authorities, but the injured crane remained on the loose.
Then, one evening in late September, 11-year-old Monica Schaetz saw the same bird in a stream near her home with its mate and a young crane — and with the arrow still through its body.
"Her and I were going for a walk that night — she insisted on going along," said Monica's mother, Connie. "She saw the crane across the street. It was a good thing she went with me."
The next day, Connie reached bird rehabilitator Marge Gibson, executive director of the Raptor Education Group, Inc., in Antigo. Gibson and wildlife rehabilitator Nicki Christianson of Wisconsin Rapids developed a capture plan. On Sept. 29, more than two dozen people helped locate and capture the weakened crane.
The arrow was quickly removed.
Patient became foster mom
Gibson said the crane had a bad infection but survived during treatment and spent the winter at her center, serving as a foster parent for six young cranes that came in with a variety of injuries in late fall.
Through the recovery, Gibson had her doubts whether the crane could ever be released.
"I didn't think she'd ever fly again," she said, but a couple weeks ago she went to check on the crane in a large flight building and got a surprise.
"She flew straight over the top of my head," she said.
She said the bird's survival has been miraculous, first when the arrow missed any vital organs and then when the infection failed to kill her.
"I've done this for 40 years and I've never seen anything like this before," she said.
"It's such a heartbreaking story, and then the fact that she's going back is more than we could have ever hoped for."
Reunites with mate, child
Gibson and others released the bird Wednesday morning in Wisconsin Rapids.
The crane's mate and the young crane were still in the area, and the mate immediately started calling her.
Cranes mate for life. Gibson wanted to get the female back in the wild before the male started looking for a replacement.
No one has been charged with shooting the crane, despite a reward offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The sandhill crane is a federally protected species.