Blue Cranes

The International Crane Foundation

I could, and probably will, write a great deal about this visit, but before I even start, I want you to put this on your bucket list if you have never been.  If you have been before, I hope reading this will provide the incentive to go again, and often! [The International Crane Foundation]

Sandhill Cranes

This Foundation came onto my radar slowly.  I didn’t know it existed when I started to actually live the re-emergence of the Sandhill cranes in southern Wisconsin. I became a fan of these large birds immediately.  Their distinctive honking (“they sound like lunatic clowns” according to my older son) and the frequent flyovers in spring, summer, and fall always make me pause to look up!  More and more, I see them in fields as I drive through Wisconsin.  To see one is always a treat.

Sandhill Crane on her nest. Can you find her? Hints: 1) She is not in the grass, but right out in the open, and 2) she has a bright red patch on her head. [This image was from a spring post a number of years ago.]

Last winter, I took a day to travel to see Eagle Days in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin.  At the exhibits area, I talked to the representative for the International Crane Foundation and learned about the incredible effort to re-establish a migrating whopping crane flock. Can you believe this all was done by a bicycle driven ultra-light?

Even with this slowly building prelude, I went to see the Crane Foundation earlier this month only slightly lukewarm; I was going to Baraboo, it was there, why not? What is a bird “foundation” anyway?

Just finishing “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Diane Ackerman), I was clued into the word “zoo” and when I saw that the Foundation was a member of the zoos of the world, my interest was piqued and I was ready to see this place with considerably more enthusiasm.

One of the open habitats (for the Wattled Crane) – also show you the property.

But the place is nothing compared to the birds themselves!

A Wattled Crane fishing … or frogging.

The International Crane Foundation is home to all 15 species of cranes. Not content to just house and show them to the public, the Foundation is dedicated to preserving these birds and their natural habitats.  They have a breeding facility on the premises and they work in the countries where the birds live, working to establish a balance between the needs of people in these often impoverished areas and the survival of the cranes. If you are not distracted by the beauty of these creatures, you can learn about the countries in question, the problems facing the cranes, and the conservation efforts as you walk the property.

At the horizon, you can see the breeding facility, well away from the “zoo.”

Grey Crowned Crane

I was distracted by the birds!

There are a variety of ways in which the birds are displayed on the property. Birds were in large habitats covered by netting and behind chicken wire fences, as well as  in huge open, roofless habitats. Those birds have clipped wings. Clipped wings may seem like a cruelty, but in this case, these are birds who are well-accustomed to living with humans.  Birds in the breeding program are not on display, and their contact with humans is limited on purpose.  Those chicks are destined to be re-introduced into the wild.  But these birds on display, may have been injured or raised in captivity, so they cannot be released.

But the birds!

The birds are simply magnificent.  Those that are in confined pens will actually come quite close to the sides of their enclosures, so you can get

Sarus Crane – look at those stilts!

a good look at them (even speak to them, like I did). They range from just over 3 feet tall to the huge Sarus Cranes from India that are over 6′ tall.  Believe me that is a huge bird.  They are the largest flying bird in the world!  Even from far away, you can tell they are really tall.

Their feathers are also beautiful in so many ways.  The breast feathers of the Eurasian Cranes are dappled grey; the Black crowned Crane and the Grey Crowned Crane have a pom-pom of gold feathers on their heads; the Blue Crane’s feathers are colored in such a way that the bird looks to have been painted; tail feathers come in all different arrays.

Add to their beauty, intelligent eyes and wickedly pointed beaks.  There is a lot to examine, and much cause for awe. Sadly, most are endangered.

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Black Necked Crane

The rare whopping cranes have their own exhibit.  You can enter and sit in a small stadium, under cover, next to their water element.  We were fortunate that both birds, a male and a female, were in the water when we entered.  They were quite close to us.  I was a bit overcome trying to respect their closeness. I did not want to ruin it by lifting my camera. I was literally spell-bound.  These are magnificent creatures, and it is like a gift to be so close to them.

Whooping Crane

Please visit the International Crane Foundation website for details on the birds and breeds.  They have a extensive section that deals with each one, with range, habitat, food and more.  And, their photographs are much better than mine.

Have I convinced you to go see this?  At the very least, that is what I want you to do.  I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did, and for the sake of the birds and the work of the Foundation, contribute to their efforts.

Here’s the link to the website again.

Whooping Cranes have a large open habitat