• Cheré Dastugue Coen

Chasing Snowbirds

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 two-day event, titled Festival of the Cranes, on Jan. 15-16, 2022. 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 ninth 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.


WNWR Visitor Center Activities

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022

All Day

Necedah NWR and IC interactive activity booths.

Periodic art demonstration by artist Timothy Joe.

StoryWalk at the Refuge: Discover Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee along the Atkeson Trail, compliments of Decatur Public Library.


6:30 a.m.

Sunrise breakfast at the Refuge followed by a guided bird walk ($5 per person donation).


8:30 a.m.

Birding 101 with Christopher Joe (meet at the VC information desk).


11 a.m.

Joe Wiegand’s one-man theater show shares stories of adventure, laughter and inspiration of the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.


12:30 p.m.

The latest news on crane conservation from around the world by ICF President and CEO Dr. Richard Beilfuss (auditorium).


2 p.m.

Two-hour photography workshop with Paul Bannick (limited seating in the classroom/field portion limited to 10 participants).


Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022

All Day

Periodic art demonstration by artist Timothy Joe.

StoryWalk at the Refuge: Discover Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee along the Atkeson Trail, compliments of Decatur Public Library.


9 a.m.

Two-hour photography workshop with Paul Bannick (limited seating in the classroom/field portion limited to 10 participants).

The latest news on crane conservation from around the world by ICF President and CEO Dr. Richard Beilfuss (auditorium).


10:30 a.m.

Connecting with Birds and Nature: Christopher Joe talks about his interest in birding and guided bird tours, his father’s influence in agriculture and his video creation process.


1 p.m.

Joe Wiegand’s one-man theater show shares stories of adventure, laughter and inspiration of the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.


3 p.m.

Presentation by Lauren McGough, a licensed and practicing falconer.


The Princess Theatre

Friday, Jan. 14, 2022

7 p.m.

John Paul White in concert.


Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022

9 a.m.

Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls. Award-winning photographer Paul Bannick presents each stage in an owl’s life through a new program featuring rare dramatic images.


11 a.m.

Presentation by Lauren McGough, a licensed and practicing falconer.


1 p.m.

Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center Presentation. See raptors up close while learning about habitats, conservation and ecology.


3 p.m.

Joe Wiegand’s one-man theater show shares stories of adventure, laughter and inspiration of the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.


7 p.m.

OVERLAND Feature Documentary Adventure unfolds across four continents as an eagle hunter, a hawk whisperer and a falcon racer awaken the ancient art of falconry.


Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022

10 a.m.

Joe Wiegand’s one-man theater show shares stories of adventure, laughter and inspiration of the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.


11:30 a.m.

Presentation by Lauren McGough, a licensed and practicing falconer.


1 p.m.

Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center Presentation. See raptors up close while learning about habitats, conservation and ecology.


3 p.m.

Owls and Woodpeckers of North America: Award-winning photographer Paul Bannick presents a visual and auditory exploration of the habits of owls and woodpeckers.


Cook Museum of Natural Science

Friday, Jan. 14 and Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022

(Free for Cook Museum members or with general admission)

All Day

Wetlands Collectible Cards: Complete your set of six collectible cards while visiting the exhibits

10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Coloring activity and Whooping Crane selfie station.

Cool Cranes! Science on the Spot activity.


Old State Bank

Friday, Jan. 14

9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

High School Students Crane Art Show


Saturday, Jan. 15

9 a.m. to Noon

High School Students Crane Art Show


Carnegie Visual Art Center

Saturday, Jan. 15

10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Family-friendly art workshop.

Hands-on workshop with artists Dariana Dervis and Chiharu Roach. For details and registration go to www.carnegiearts.org. Class size is limited.


Alabama Center for the Arts

Saturday, Jan. 15

10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Festival of the Cranes Art Exhibition.


10 a.m. to Noon

Thumbprint Critters: Create animals, plants and flowers from thumbprints. Supplies provided.

North Alabama Zoological Society FrogWatch presentations, hands-on kids’ activities and information on the new zoo proposal.


3 p.m.

Jr. Duck Stamp Drawing Workshop: a 1 1/2 hour one-stop shop guide to drawing tips, composition ideas and contest entry guidelines for the Jr. Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Contest. Supplies provided.


For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, visit https://www.friendsofwheelernwr.org/ or follow www.facebook.com/FOCatWheeler for the latest updates.

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