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Flock to North Alabama for the Year of Birding

DECATUR – North Alabama is for the birds.

Well, actually, the area is for birding.

And to help celebrate our feathered friends during the Alabama Tourism Department’s Year of Birding, the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association is showcasing the native birds and their impact on the region.

(Decatur Morgan County Tourism/Contributed)

At Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (3121 Visitor Center Road, Decatur), Whooping Crane Walks are offered Feb. 23-24 and 29 at 11 a.m. The events offer a chance to spot some of the Refuge’s resident winter birds, including the sandhill cranes and, if lucky, the endangered whooping cranes.  The bird walk will be led by Travis Roddy from the International Crane Foundation. For more information, visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/wheeler and click on events.

Bird enthusiasts and nature lovers are gearing up for an exhilarating adventure March 9 at the Oakville Feather Fest, set to take place at the Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center (1219 County Road 187, Danville) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event promises a day filled with a variety of engaging activities, including educational stations, guided bird walks, raptor shows, guest speakers, food trucks, hands-on crafts for students, and highlighted bird art and goods made by local students. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/oakvilleindianmounds.

Alabama Audubon is offering an Audubon Outing/A North Alabama Drive on March 14. This is a self-driving, full-day adventure through the diverse habitats of North Alabama, starting at the Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge and traveling to “the Sinks”, an assortment of flooded ponds and fields in the southern Tennessee Valley near Leighton, and ending at Wheeler Dam. This unique outing will take you through a variety of landscapes in northwestern Alabama, each offering a chance to observe a rich array of bird species and other wildlife. Registration is required. For more information, visit https://alaudubon.org/event/audubon-outing/key-leighton-wheeler/03-14-24.

Bald eagles are often spotted in North Alabama. According to Outdoor Alabama, bald eagles are found statewide; however, they are concentrated primarily along rivers and large bodies of water. A January survey of bald eagles in Alabama has averaged about 100-150 birds in recent years. Concentrations occur on Pickwick Lake near Waterloo and Guntersville Lake near Lake Guntersville State Park. For sites around Guntersville, click here.

With Feathered February, the Huntsville Botanical Garden (4747 Bob Wallace Ave.) hosts several activities that tie in perfectly with the Year of Birding. Tweetsville is a new immersive experience in the Children’s Garden that explores the role that birds play in the ecosystem. In Tweetsville, observe birds in their natural environment, learn about bird habitats and discover new ways of connecting to nature through play. Tweetsville is open daily and is included with garden admission. The Lewis Birding Trail at the Huntsville Botanical Garden is open year-round and offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect with the avian wonders that call North Alabama home. For a chance to get up close  and personal with awe-inspiring live raptors, head over to the Huntsville Botanical Garden for the Raptor Show, a one hour program featuring the Auburn Raptor Center from the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. For more information, visit https://hsvbg.org/event/raptor-show-2/all/.

What may be the largest known purple martin colony is in Rainsville. Johnson’s World Largest Purple Martin Colony is home to 2,167 nesting sites with upward of more than 14,500 purple martins at the colony, according to estimates for 2023. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/JWLPMC/.

The Guntersville Museum (1215 Rayburn Ave.), as part of its natural history collection, showcases a local treasure that fascinated generations of local residents who attended the old City Elementary “Rock School.” In the lobby of that school, and now at the museum, was a superb display of mostly native birds collected and mounted by the late Bessie Rayburn Samuel in the 1920s. For more information, visit https://www.guntersvillemuseum.org/our-collection.

For the science behind how birds fly, check out the Formed to Fly exhibit at Cook Museum of Natural Science (133 4th Ave. NE, Decatur). For more information, visit www.cookmuseum.org.

North Alabama is also home to the North Alabama Birding Trail featuring 55 fantastic birding sites across 16 counties with each location offering a different birding experience. The North Alabama Birding Trail is not a “trail” in the traditional sense, but a series of mostly roadside stops throughout north Alabama selected for their birdwatching characteristics. While all the sites can be accessed from a vehicle, many of the sites also have traditional walking trails associated with them; and a few sites contain extensive areas that are best explored by boat or canoe. For more information, visit https://alabamabirdingtrails.com/trails/north-alabama/.

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