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Annual festival celebrating cranes winter migration set for Wheeler Wildlife Refuge

DECATUR – Birds of the long-necked and long-legged variety will be the guests of honor for the three-day Festival of the Cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in the River City next week.

The Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association (WWRA) stages the event to be held Jan. 12-14 at the refuge, where each winter more than 14,000 sandhill cranes and several pairs of endangered whooping cranes arrive for winter migration.

The association plans indoor and outdoor activities at the refuge and the Princess Theater and Alabama Center for the Arts in downtown Decatur.

According to a press release, the Festival of the Cranes has become a popular event regardless of the festivalgoer’s birding experience.

There are activities for experienced birders, for those with little to no birding knowledge or for anyone who would like to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the refuge home.

During the three-day event, guests are invited to visit the refuge observation building to view sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, ducks, geese, raptors and perhaps a bald eagle. There are bleachers and spotting scopes available and volunteers and staff are there to answer questions. Visitors are encouraged to bring a camera and binoculars.

Additional activities at the refuge include an introduction to birding, walks around the visitor center grounds to see cranes and other waterfowl in their natural habitat, and photography workshops.

The Princess Theatre and Alabama Center for the Arts are also offering special events in conjunction with Festival of the Cranes. The events include a concert by The Prescriptions on Jan. 12, a science show by magician and environmentalist Steve Trash, special activities for children, live bats, raptors, reptiles and amphibians shows, latest news on crane conservation, and more.

Some activities require the purchase of a ticket. For more information on the Festival of the Cranes including a schedule of events, visit https://www.friendsofwheelernwr.org/foc-2024 or follow WWRA on Facebook for the latest updates.

The refuge was established on July 7, 1938 by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first National Wildlife Refuge placed on a multipurpose 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 whooping cranes. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/wheeler



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