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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Chasing Snowbirds in Alabama

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

The celebration of migratory Sandhill Cranes takes place Jan. 12-14, 2024, in Decatur.

Alabama Festival of the Cranes
Alabama celebrates the visit of the Sandhill Cranes.

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. 12-14, 2024, at The Princess Theatre and Alabama Center for the Arts in downtown Decatur. During the three-day event, there will be nature walks, an introduction to birding, activities for children and the viewing of thousands of cranes at the WNWR Observation Building.

Alabama Festival of the Cranes
Sandhill Cranes

The Festival of Cranes is now in its 11th 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.

Some activities require the purchase of a ticket.

For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, including a schedule of events, visit

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

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