Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nature Geek Vacation Destinations - International Crane Foundation (Baraboo, WI)

One of my favorite experiences from our recent vacation was a visit to the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI.  The International Crane Foundation is approximately seven (7) hours away from Mid-Michigan by car.  It is located near several other must see sites for nature geeks such as the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and the Aldo Leopold Foundation (more to come on these sites later in the week).  Visits to these three places can easily be combined during a long weekend trip.

The Internation Crane Foundation (ICF) is the only place in the world where you can see live specimens of all 15 of the world's crane species.  They maintain a captive flock of approximately 100  birds at their headquarters.  These birds are used as breeding stock to for young birds that are released back into the wild.  Here in North America, ICF has been especially active in leading the way toward the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes (Grus americana).  Worldwide, ICF works with local people and governments to restore and preserve crane habitats.  Cranes are far from the only species helped by the habitat projects, but because they are large charismatic species, cranes serve as emblems for these projects.

From the ICF website:

The International Crane Foundation (ICF) works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. ICF provides knowledge, leadership, and inspiration to engage people in resolving threats to cranes and their diverse landscapes.

If you want to visit the International Crane Foundation, their facility is open to the public from 9:00AM to 5:00PM between April 15th and October 31st.  Admission is currently $9.50 for adults, $5.00 for ages 6 -17, and free for children age 5 and under (2015 rates).  The center offers guided tours  of their exhibits three times a day but you may take a self-guided tour at any time during their open hours.

Here is copy of their visitor guide which is available on their website.


If you decide to visit the International Crane Foundation give yourself at least an hour to walk around the exhibits and more if you plan on exploring their trail system.  When we arrived at the center, we were the only visitors.  Several other families arrived during our stay, but we never felt crowded at any time.

The exhibits are set up in three sections: Spirit of Africa, a pie-shaped section of habitats called the Johnson Exhibit Pod that houses ten species, and finally the Whooping Crane Habitat.

First up is the Spirit of Africa exhibit which houses four species:

Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) - This bird was inside when we first walked past its habitat, but soon came out and called.  We quickly went back to observe it as it foraged near the fence.

Grey Crowned Crane

Another photo of the same Grey Crowned Crane

Black Crowned Cranes (Balearica pavonina)

A pair of Black Crowned Cranes

A Black Crowned Crane foraging at the International Crane Foundation

Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus)

The best photo i was able to get of the Wattled Crane

Blue Crane (Anthrpoides paradisea) - The background of the Blue Crane habitat was painted with a scene to look like their habitat in southern Africa.  This species is actually the national bird of South Africa.

Blue Cranes against a painted background of cranes dancing

A closer view of one of the Blue Cranes

After leaving the Spirit of Africa Exhibit our next stop was the first part of the Johnson Exhibit Pod.

Brolga (Grus rubicunda) - This species is native to Australia and New Guinea.

This Brolga came right up to the fence and eyed us

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) - The Sarus Crane is native to India, Nepal, and Pakistan.  This is the tallest crane species with a height of six feet (and a wingspan of eight feet)!

The Sarus Crane was another bird that approached right to the fence

White-naped Crane (Grus vipio) - While many species approached the fence as we walked by their enclosures, other species such as this one were uninterested by our presence.

At this point, we took the path to the Whooping Crane Exhibit.  The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is native to North America.  It is currently on the Endangered Species list with fewer than 500 being found in the wild.  Most of these birds have been reintroduced from captive breeding stock.  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as of February 2015, the flock that migrates from Wisconsin to Florida consisted of only 93 birds.  On a positive note, this population was zero birds as recently as the year 2000.

The path to the Whooping Crane exhibit passes through a sculpture that depicts a single crane taking flight.

Whooping Crane sculpture at the International Crane Foundation

This sculpture depicts steps in a single bird taking flight

The sculpture of the bird continues across the path as it gains altitude

Inside the exhibit is a pair of Whooping Cranes.  Most of the birds are in exhibits that include fine mesh "roofs" to prevent the birds from flying out, but this enclosure (and the Wattled Crane habitat) did not have any overhead cover.  I expect that these birds probably have the feathers on their wings clipped to prevent escape.

A pair of captive Whooping Cranes at ICF

These cranes seemed to be wary of our presence and moved further away as we entered the viewing area.

After leaving the Whooping Crane exhibit, and returning to the Johnson Exhibit Pod, the next species that we encountered was the second North American crane species - the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis).  This is the most abundant crane species in the world.  This is the species of crane that can be seen regularly in Mid-Michigan, especially during their spring migration.

This picture shows just how close you can get to the cranes
A Sandhill Crane viewed through the fence

Each crane at the center is banded with an aluminum band around its leg that identifies it.  This band was on one of the Sandhill Cranes.

An aluminum band on the leg of the Sandhill Crane

Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus)

A Siberian Crane at ICF

White-naped Crane (Grus vipio)

This White-naped Crane was very interested in us

A second picture of the same crane peering through the fence

A third and final picture of the White-naped Crane

We ended up seeing and photographing ten of the fifteen species of cranes at ICF - two species could barely be seen inside the building at the center of the exhibit pod. Three of the species couldn't be seen at all.  The five species that we missed photographing were the Demoiselle Crane (Anthrpoides virgo), Eurasian Crane (Grus grus)Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricolis), Hooded Crane (Grus monacha), and the Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis).

After touring through the exhibits, we stopped at the center's excellent gift shop to purchase momentos of our visit - including a pair of mobiles for Shara's classroom and t-shirt that I am wearing as I type this.

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