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Injured crane is now back on course

Urged on by its rescuers, a young sandhill crane was returned Friday to the golf course where it was bonked on the head by a ball 11 days earlier.

"Good luck, Sweetie!" said Carol Tallman of Seabird Rescue, a Dunedin-based network of volunteers. "You stay out of trouble, you hear me?"

The crane, about 1{ years old, was thought to be a male, although several of its caretakers had come to consider it female.

The crane was hit June 12 on the ninth fairway of the Bobcat course at the Silver Dollar Golf & Trap Club, which is on the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line. When Mrs. Tallman and her husband, Al, arrived to pick up the bird that afternoon, its right eye was swollen shut, and it was bleeding from its ears.

"We didn't expect it to make it," Al Tallman said.

The young crane had pluck, however, and responded well to antibiotics and meals of crickets and worms. Its release Friday brought smiles and congratulatory hugs.

"This is one of the good ones," Tallman said.

The crane was returned to the course, and possibly back into harm's way, because that is where its family lives, said Rick Chaboudy, director of the Humane Society of North Pinellas. Sandhill cranes, a threatened species, return to the same nesting site year after year.

"This is where she's going to be happiest," Chaboudy said.

Chaboudy and the Tallmans led a head-turning procession of five golf carts to the sixth tee, where they pulled the crane out of an animal carrier. It stretched up to its full 3{-foot height and appeared to preen for the cameras. It shook its tail feathers and lumbered toward a small pond.

"Starting to look familiar?" Chaboudy asked, a piece of bird fluff still clinging to his forehead.

The bird was the third in the area hit in recent weeks by a golf ball, Chaboudy said. Two ospreys struck while in flight were hurt so badly they had to be euthanized.

Skip Nielsen, general manager at the Silver Dollar, said the crane is a member of a resident family of four that includes another juvenile bird. "They'll be back," he said. "They'll pick her up."

It is unknown who launched the errant golf shot, but everyone was pleased with the happy ending.

"You hate to see anything hurt," Nielsen said. "But to see it rehabilitated and released back in its area is fabulous."