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Sandhill cranes put highway project on hold

FDOT: Worker spots nest of endangered birds

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A nest of endangered birds has put the blueprints for part of a major Jacksonville road project on hold. The Florida Department of Transportation says a worker spotted the nest of Sandhill cranes , just off State Road 23 on Jacksonville's Westside.

Construction can continue on what is called the First Coast Expressway Project- just not in the area of the nest.

They believe the nest consists of two chicks, a mom and dad. Florida Fish and Wildlife has set up a 400 foot perimeter around the nest. They're trying to keep the birds safe and healthy until the babies are able to fly.

At one time, the area was nothing but woods and wetlands and home to all sorts of wildlife. But now, it's become home to cars, trucks, construction and tractors-which could be a danger to these cranes.

"Part of the difficulty is young Sandhill cranes need to roost in standing water and spend over night in standing order to avoid predators so they need access to some other wetland where they can do that." said Craig Faulhaber from Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Faulhaber adds that the mother crane didn't choose the best place to nest by picking the middle of a major road project.

The First Coast Expressway will be a new toll facility that will eventually connect Interstate 95 in northern St. Johns County to Interstate 10 in west Duval.

Since the Florida Sandhill crane is endangered, FWC has instructed FDOT to not conduct any construction within a 400-foot perimeter of the nest. Ron Tittle with FDOT says the nest was discovered by a worker who did the right thing by reporting the nest back in March.

"We begin these projects and we do surveys and our folks are trained in what to look for- whether it be indigo snakes are gopher tortoises whatever the habitat is so we try to work around those" says Tittle.

FWC officials don't expect the birds to be in the area for too much longer. Faulhaber says once the chicks can fly, the four likely won't be returning to the nest.

"The young birds will gain the ability of flight about 70 days after hatching and they'll stay with their parents until about next breeding season- January or February of next year then they'll go off and be on their own." said Faulhaber.

Once the birds leave, the project can resume in the area of the nest. The FWC says the only time the birds may be a return would be if the mom comes back next year to try and nest in the same spot. He adds that she can easily find a similar nesting spot somewhere else.