Another cool thing about Baraboo, Wisconsin, is that it’s home to the International Crane Foundation (ICF), which definitely caught my interest. Steve gladly dropped me off so I could enjoy some “alone time” with my feathered friends.
The cranes here aren’t in the wild – ICF is home to a captive population of cranes on their 225-acre campus in Baraboo, including the only complete collection of 15 recognized species in one place. Yes, all 15 species of cranes in the Gruidae family are at this facility. Be prepared for bird pictures (Steve’s yawning)!
In 1973, two friends (Ron Sauey and George Archibald) who shared a passion for cranes founded the International Crane Foundation. Their dream was to save the cranes of the world, and that vision has been the driving force behind ICF ever since.
The ICF’s stated mission is to work worldwide to save cranes, and to conserve the ecosystems, watersheds and flyways on which they depend. ICF is dedicated to providing experience, knowledge, and inspiration to involve people in resolving threats to these ecosystems.
I joined a tour, the best way to learn about the mission and goals of ICF. Having an educated guide helped me to appreciate each species of bird, as he talked in length about the crane’s habitat, the path of their flyways and the current threats to their survival. These birds had their wings clipped, so they won’t be migrating anymore. But they seemed to be happy here, and I was very happy to see so many of them in one place!
According to the conservation status designations assigned by ICF, the handsome fellows shown below are considered Endangered:
The last recorded observation of Siberian Cranes from the central Asian flock was in 2002. Along with Whooping Cranes, the Siberian birds receive considerable conservation efforts as they are primarily threatened by hunting and risk from loss of wetland habitat. They are classified as critically endangered, which means the species is facing an extremely high risk of complete extinction in the wild.
ICF also classifies the following as Vulnerable:
And these beauties are still abundant in the wild that they are designated as Least Concern:
I learned from the tour guide that the total number of cranes in the facility varies from season to season, but they normally have between 100-120 birds. They usually have about 30 on display – always in male and female pairs. Another area of the facility, consisting of 65 pens, is called “Crane City”. It’s off-limits to the public, since this is where cranes breed and they are sensitive to disturbances from people.
For those who are counting, you may have noticed that I didn’t include Sandhill Cranes in this story. There were a couple here, but I’ve already hung out with thousands of them as they wintered in Arizona – and wrote a story about them here. They remain listed as Least Concern.
But the stars at the ICF are the endangered Whooping Cranes –
The Whooping Crane’s recovery is one of conservation’s most inspiring success stories. From the tour I learned that only about 600 Whooping Cranes exist in the world today. Their historic decline to near extinction, and gradual but fragile recovery, is among conservation’s best known success stories. Since 1973, the ICF and their partners have made great strides in protecting and re-introducing these birds, but the job is far from completed.
In the 1980’s, ICF researchers began experimenting with “costume-rearing” of cranes. This involves workers wearing full-length crane costumes to hide the human form, and using crane hand puppets to feed and interact with the chicks. No talking is allowed, either. OK, I know what I’m going to wear to my next Halloween party!
ICF and its partners return Whooping Cranes to the wild through Direct Autumn Release, ultralight-led migration, and other other re-introduction methods. Since 2001, ultralight aircraft pilots have acted as surrogate parents to guide captive-hatched and imprinted Whooping Cranes along a planned migration route – beginning in Wisconsin and ending in Florida’s Chassahowitzka and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuges. Amazing!
Whooping Cranes migrate over 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in western Canada to their winter digs on coastal wetlands near and within the boundaries of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Texas. We’re going to spend part of this coming winter there, so I’m excited to see these birds in the wild in a few months!
I thoroughly enjoyed my day as I was educated about the beautiful cranes. So, if you’re in the area and are interested in cranes, or in the ICF, the $9.50 fee is well worth it!
For more information about the International Crane Foundation, click here.
For more information about conservation efforts for the Whooping Cranes, click here.
To check out ultralight-led migrations, click here.