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  • Cheré Dastugue Coen

Chasing Snowbirds in Alabama

Updated: Jan 5

These days, when I hear the term “snowbirds” I think of the non-feathered variety (aka Yankees) who flock to the Gulf Coast in winter for the mild climate. But the term initially refers to our feathered friends who spend winters in the Deep South.

Take the Sandhill cranes. More than 14,000 spend their winters at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama. A few pairs of Whooping cranes do the same. And to celebrate these fascinating birds, the refuge is hosting a three-day event, titled Festival of the Cranes, on Jan. 13-15, 2023. There will be nature walks, live raptors and special programs, plus additional activities in various locations within Decatur before, during and after the festival.


The Festival of Cranes is now in its 10th year and has become popular for both experienced birders and those wanting to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the Refuge home. In addition to the activities, guests may visit the Observation Building to view thousands of Sandhill cranes along with several Whooping cranes, ducks, geese, raptors and perhaps a bald eagle — all from the comfort of a heated building. There are bleachers and spotting scopes available along with volunteers and staff standing by to answer questions.


Beginning Friday, Jan. 13, 2023

The Princess Theatre, Cook Museum of Natural Science, Old State Bank, Carnegie Visual Art Center, Decatur Public Library and Alabama Center for the Arts are offering special events in conjunction with the festival. The schedule of events includes a live concert by Three On A String, a science show by magician and environmentalist Steve Trash, live raptors shows, the latest news on crane conservation, watercolor workshops and much more. Some activities require the purchase of a ticket.


WNWR Visitor Center Activities

Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023

8 a.m. to 9 a.m. – A morning walk to see cranes and other waterfowl in their natural habitat with former Refuge Manager Dwight Cooley.

9 a.m. to 10 a.m. –- An introduction to the basics of birding with a walk around the visitor center grounds with Christopher Joe.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Observation Building open for viewing


Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Observation Building open for viewing

Periodic art demo of various nature scenes by Alabama artist Timothy M. Joe


For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, visit https://www.friendsofwheelernwr.org/festival-of-the-cranes-2023.


Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established on July 7, 1938, by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first National Wildlife Refuge placed on a multi-purpose reservoir to provide habitat for wintering and migrating birds. Covering 35,000 acres, it attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year and is home to Alabama’s largest wintering duck population. The Refuge also supports the state’s largest concentration of Sandhill Cranes and the endangered Whooping Crane. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/wheeler.

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