What 6' tall bird did I just see in Madison?

I almost ran over a bird this morning – three birds together. This wasn’t out in the boonies, but in the middle of a mid-sized city in southern WI.

They were about 6’ tall, very long legs, very long necks. Their bodies maybe a bit higher than the hood of my car, their heads were higher than the roof. Black plumage on their bodies with a little white plumage around the tail. As far as I could tell, neither their necks nor legs had any plumage at all. The necks and heads were brown – and I didn’t see any other coloration.

I called the police non-emergency number to report them as possible zoo or pet escapees, and possible traffic hazards. The very nice lady who took the report thought she knew the bird type, but couldn’t come up with a name. To my great surprise she called me back a few minutes later, and asked if I was at my computer (I had mentioned going to try IDing it), and had me google “emu”. It wasn’t an emu, though. My birds had their legs situated closer to the back of the body and seemed to be walking more upright than most of the emu pics that came up. She said something about people having emu on farms, but she didn’t know of any that had them locally.

Oh, and in a related question, is there a really good website for doing this kind of ID? I’ve found a couple so far that ID based on silhouette, which is ok, but they only show 3 or 4 examples once you make your choice. I’m reasonably certain I haven’t discovered a new species, so I can only conclude that their photo databases are too small, or maybe to regional. If these were escaped pets or farm animals, they could have been imported from anywhere.

I’m biking down to the Madison farmer’s market. I’ll keep my eyes open, and since I always seem to run into a dozen or so friends down there, I’ll ask around. Oh, and I’ll detour past the zoo and see if they’re missing a Kevin(the bird in UP).

ostriches? There are some on farms around here in North Carolina. Also google Great Blue Heron.

You’re sure it wasn’t an ostrich? People raise those for meat and skins.

Sounds very like ostriches.

I believe the only two (living) birds that come close to your description are emus and ostriches. Both exist on farms and zoos in the Midwest.

Sandhill cranes? They migrate through Wisconsin.

Ostrich was my first thought, but no, I don’t think so. It looks like one of those birds that wade around in marshlands. Maybe some kind of heron or egret, but as I’m still looking at picks, none that I’ve looked at are particularly close. The body and legs were both more slender than pics of ostriches I see.

And, oh yes, it had a sharp beak, more like an arrow point.

I think I’m gonna take my camera and go back for a look, though most likely they’re either gone or squashed into the pavement.

If emu and ostrich don’t fit, try Google images: wading birds

That’s what I thought. In fact the International Crane Foundation is an hour north of Madison. But do those get that tall? Wow, just took a look through that website: there are some weirdass-looking cranes. And it’s Madison-- you may have seen some cross-dressing ones…

Pretty close on the body shape, but none of the pics show black cranes. Also, either there was no plumage at all on the neck, or it was very short and tight to the body, and was the same color as the head.

Sandhill cranes are white though. The OP said his birds were black.

Maybe an immature Great Blue Heron or immature Sandhill Crane?

Can they be both immature and 6’ tall?

Big Bird and a tinted windshield or sunglasses.

Sandhill cranes are not white.

Yup, definitely not white.

I just had a nice chat on the phone with the lady from animal control, who is in the neighborhood looking for them. She says there is a placce right nearby called the Owen Conservancy, and she too thought it might be sandhill cranes. But when I repeated the information about the plumage and size, she said sandhills aren’t that big.

As we were speaking, she saw two wild turkeys walking by, and wondered if they were the ones I saw. They were quite a bit smaller but maybe I mentally exaggerated their size. But I asked about white plumage around the tail, and the turkeys were solid black. So they weren’t the same birds.

She then thanked me for giving her an interesting call – apparently most of her calls are for things like dead or injured raccoons and pets to the side of roads. She mentioned she was going to call our local zoo and see if they could provide some help on an ID.

Whooping cranes?

On follow up, the young cranes have brown heads, some they might have been immature. The are only 400 odd of theses bird left in the wild, so you are lucky if this is what you saw…

Oops, I misread your OP, whooping cranes are not black, but white… never mind.

6" tall that would be some drumsticks.

they are dark as you say.

it is turkey time though and you will see them move around more. they can also show little fear of cars if they live near roads, they move at the last minute especially in flocks