Cranes at the International Crane Foundation

The gate at the International Crane Foundation

There is more to the Wisconsin Dells than waterparks, mini golf, souvenir shops and go carts. Just outside the town of Baraboo, there’s the cranes at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) to see as well. Here you will see  all 15 species of cranes in the world, 11 of which are threatened with extinction. You can explore on your own the zoo like park or take a complimentary guided tour. We did a bit of both. The main exhibits are along a paved path and easy to walk. For those who need assistance there are motorized scooters available at no charge.

The grounds at the International Crane FoundationThe park is 240 acres and  has 3.5 miles of restored prairie and savanna nature trails full of grasses, shrubs and wildflowers in bloom.

wildflowers at the International Crane FoundationWhile not all areas are  handicap accessible, all of the main exhibits are. Visitors are encouraged to bring a sack lunch. Soft drinks and light snacks are available at the gift shop.

one of the few  Siberian Cranes left on earth :(There are a few rules which are strictly enforced at the International Crane Foundation to protect the cranes. Absolutely no littering for many reasons but most importantly because the cranes might eat it and become sick or hurt. You are not supposed to interact, mimic, or poke your hands or objects through the fence. These behaviors cause the birds to become aggressive and may make them hurt themselves by breaking their beaks on the fencing. This is their sanctuary and visitors should be respectful. Because cranes are endangered species you must not take feathers.  Each species is protected by  laws and permits are required to own crane feathers. In order for the cranes to be healthy they have a very special diet, visitors should not feed them or try to pet them.

Murals at the International Crane FoundationWe began our visit by watching a short film about cranes and their endangered habitats around the world at the Visitor Center. The murals at the ICF are true works of art. Then we began our 2 hour guided tour around the entire paved walk way.

new recycled glass pathsThe new walkways are made of recycled glass, it’s permeable to water and protects the area from erosion by rains. Eventually all the walk ways will be done in this earth friendly way.


Siberian Crane

Each exhibit is well marked with colorful maps showing breeding, population, migration habits and other information about each species. We noticed the cranes are very curious and territorial, often coming close to the fence.




Signs explaining each exhibit

We learned from Maria, our knowledgeable summer intern guide, one reason so many of the world’s 15 species are endangered or threatened is because of the diminishing wetlands and grasslands worldwide where cranes make their homes.

reflectors protect all birds from collisions

Another reason is a large percentage of birds are killed in power lines collisions which is avoidable if  reflectors are placed on them.  The birds at the ICF are captive, a well cared for collection and do not migrate, their wings are clipped.

whooping crane in the marsh at the International Crane FoundationOne of the most unique exhibits is of the whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America. It is a small  amphitheater where you can quietly sit and watch the birds in their natural marsh habitat. It’s beautiful and peaceful. These cranes mate for life, living 20-40 years and usually only one chick thrives from the annual Spring nest of two eggs. It is believed at one time there were 2000 birds in Canada down to  Mexico,, however in the 1940’s the number of whooping cranes dropped to near extinction to just 16. The major cause was hunting. Losses are also contributed to the change of prairies and marshes to farmland, the destruction of winter habitats from hurricanes and chemical contamination on the Texas coast and collisions with power lines during migration. Now counts show a more thriving, breeding population found only in Wisconsin and Florida of about 600.

red crowned craneStill cranes are consistently declining around the world even though they are traditional symbols in many cultures. In Japan they represent fidelity. Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda  have cranes representing their national bird, many countries use their images on stamps and currency. In several cultures they symbolize good luck and in others bad. Cranes are found on every continent except Antarctica and South America. I asked our guide Maria if there were only 2 things to help save cranes worldwide what they would be? She replied without hesitation,”let your politicians know you care about saving cranes and preserving habitats. The second, warmed my heart and made me smile, “teach the children in your life about nature.”

the exhibits at the International Crane Foundtation

After we made one more pass around the exhibits, we stopped by the gift shop to join the International Crane Foundation. Contributions make a difference in over 20 countries. The work of the foundation helps find solutions to the meet the needs of people while protecting cranes and their environments. PLUS,  now we have reciprocal admission to over 150 zoos and aquariums! For more information on how you can help save the cranes please visit:


Where have you seen cranes?


For a complete list  of the 15 species of cranes, where they are found and how they are trending:


If you’d like to visit the ICF it’s on Shady Lane Road between Baraboo and the Wisconsin Dells.

Phone: 608-356-9462

Open 9-5pm daily from April 15- October 31


ICF Members: free

Adults: $9.50

Seniors/Students: $8.00

Youth: (6-17): $5.00

Children under 5: Free

Free parking and picnic area

Guided Tours: 10 am, 1 and 3 pm  Memorial Day- Labor Day, weekends only in April, May, September and October.

Please, no pets.






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