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There are helpful neighbors, and then there’s Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells. The casino takes the meaning of helpful neighbor to a whole-new level by donating not just food, but money from its waterfall pool to its neighbors at the International Crane Foundation to feed the cranes.

The good relationship between the neighbors has been in existence for several years, but re-blossomed earlier this year when the casino started donating food to the International Crane Foundation.

Once a week, fresh food is delivered from the casino for all 110 birds at the Foundation, and sometimes special requests are made.

“Our food and beverage staff communicates with the bird handlers, as far as what they need, and we provide the fresh produce when they need it,” said Dave Abangan, public relations manager for Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells.

Some of the birds’ favorite foods include: grapes, lettuce, clementines, crickets, mealworms, minnows, smelt, snails, crawfish and frozen shrimp, said Kim Boardman, curator of birds at the International Crane Foundation.

“Grapes are a favorite,” said Boardman. “Lettuce is also fun for them…we might just call (the casino) and ask for a bag of clementines for the birds, and then, someone will go pick it up.”

Caretakers try to keep feeding time interesting and natural for the birds by providing food-based enrichment, which sometimes involves hiding the birds’ food under a heap of sand to make the birds search for it, as they would in a natural environment, Boardman said.

In addition to the once-a-week deliveries, Ho-Chunk also donates the funds from their waterfall pool to go towards the feeding of the cranes. These additional funds are used to purchase extra-special treats, such as pumpkins in the Fall or a surprise Christmas treat.

“We might give them live minnows,” Boardman said.

Other live foods the cranes prefer are chipmunks, squirrels, frogs and other smaller birds that reside on the almost-300-acre refuge, and seem oblivious to the fact that they can easily become a tasty meal for the large birds.

All 15 species of crane are represented at the International Crane Foundation. The Foundation focuses on conservation, education and habitat restoration for the birds.

And like a good neighbor, Ho-Chunk considers themselves lucky to have the Foundation as their neighbors.

“For various reasons, it makes a lot of sense for us to partner with our neighbor, whose important work as curators of the cranes and environment impacts us locally and internationally. We’re lucky to have such a jewel here in Baraboo,” said Abangan.

In the wild, cranes have a lifespan of about 20 years, Boardman said. However, cranes that live in captivity can live twice as long. Currently, the oldest crane at the Foundation is 54 years old.

Follow Belen Markovich on Twitter @belen_markovich or contact her at 608-847-7341 ext. 233.