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Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Positively Dazzles All Year Long

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“There are not many places you can go, park your car, walk five minutes into a heated building, and have a five-foot-tall, endangered bird standing outside a window for you to enjoy.” 

– Wheeler Wildlife National Refuge Park Ranger David Young

Each winter, anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 temporary residents show up to bring an experience that’s positively Decatur.

The guests? Migrating sandhill cranes and even several pairs of extremely rare whooping cranes. 

The wintering waterfowl begin arriving at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in late October through November, reach peak numbers in late December and January, and take off in early February. 

While you’ll see the cranes all across Alabama during this period, Decatur is home to the state’s largest concentration of them. These birds clearly know the best place to be. To celebrate that – and them – the community hosts a free, three-day Festival of the Cranes every January. The 2023 Festival of the Cranes is this weekend, January 13-15.  

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service established the refuge in 1938 specifically for migratory birds like ducks, geese, and cranes. Interestingly, the endangered whooping cranes didn’t start visiting until 2004. Thanks to them all, unfeathered Decatur inhabitants and visitors also have a beautiful, natural preserve to enjoy all year. The refuge offers fishing, limited hunting, cycling and hiking trails, kayaking, canoeing, and of course, birdwatching and nature photography. 

As spectacular as it is to experience the birds each winter, you’ll find the refuge serves up the best of natural wonder and recreation throughout all four seasons. You can experience more of Wheeler NWR’s sights and sounds in the video gallery below. Plan your visit today!


Get Inspired

Festival of the Cranes – Wheeler Wildlife Refuge video courtesy of  Alabama Tourism

#ThisisMoCo Community Storytelling Series – The Friend courtesy of Visit Decatur Alabama

Visit to Wheeler Wildlife Refuge video courtesy of Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours LLC

Wheeler NWR – A National Treasure video courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

American White Pelicans Superflock at Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge video courtesy of Don Brownlow

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge video courtesy of YouTube content creator gl5011


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