This weekend was the grand opening of the four new habitats at the International Crane Foundation. If you want to see some impressive birds, the ICF is the place to go. The four new habitats gave the four African species room to stretch their wings and better viewing for visitors.
In North America there are only two species: sandhill and whooping. Wisconsin might seem like an unlikely place for such a center, but sandhills are everywhere in Wisconsin and you can see them in the fields or hear them on the wind. And the whooping crane rescue effort is based out of here.
The ICF was the first place to breed all 15 species of cranes in captivity. The most endangered of all the cranes is the whooping crane. In the 1940s the population was as low as 17. 17 birds from extinction. Can you imagine? Loss of habitat and some poaching brought the birds to this critical
moment. Organizations came to the rescue and one of those was the International Crane Foundation, founded by Ron Sauey and George Archibald.
The first trick for saving the whooping cranes in particular was simply to increase the numbers and make a genetic bank. The second perhaps was trying to avoid the genetic bottleneck imposed by the low population. Inbreeding would have been as big a threat as anything else. But the breeding efforts eventually started to see good results and the population began the slow process of recuperating. But to introduce these birds to the wild was the final challenge. These are migratory birds and the young learn to make the journey from the adults. Without a flock, there was no one to teach them.
Operation Migration was the unlikely answer: fly an ultralight plane and show them the way. Long clever story short, it worked. The population is at about 500 including about 80 which have learned the path to Florida for the winter.
Not only is this place international for its collection of the fifteen species of cranes from around the world, but it is also partnered with some conversation and crane rescue projects in places such as India, Japan, Korea, parts of Africa and Russia.
They are magnificent birds with some pretty good dance moves which you may witness if you are lucky. (Come during the courting season in spring). A real treat is to go during the week when fewer people are around and just sit for a moment until the cranes ignore you and go about their business.
Visit Bird Travel – Travel for Birds A slowly evolving web site for birding travel.