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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
One 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.
Still 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.”
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: http://www.savingcranes.org/support-icf.html
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.
Open 9-5pm daily from April 15- October 31
ICF Members: free
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.