Festival of the Cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
January 12 - 14, 2023
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR) in Decatur, Ala., gears up once again to host the highly anticipated Festival of the Cranes from January 12 to 14, 2024. Known for its yearly gathering of over 14,000 Sandhill Cranes and as many as 18 Whooping Cranes have already been sighted during the winter season, this event celebrates the magnificent winter migration of these elegant creatures. The Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association has meticulously planned a three-day extravaganza, blending indoor and outdoor activities suited for people of all ages, set to take place at WNWR and various locations within downtown Decatur and at the Priceville Event Center.
The Festival of the Cranes has grown into a popular event, welcoming attendees regardless of their birding expertise. Tailored activities cater to experienced birdwatchers, novices, and those intrigued by learning more about birding and other wildlife inhabiting the Refuge. Throughout the event, visitors are invited to the WNWR Observation Building, providing a comfortable space to witness thousands of Sandhill and Whooping cranes, ducks, geese, raptors, and the occasional bald eagle. Attendees are encouraged to bring cameras and binoculars, while volunteers and staff will be available to address queries and share insights.
Throughout the weekend, Decatur and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge offer a vibrant array of activities. At Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can enjoy birding sessions and photography workshops on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday features early morning birding and photography workshops with Dwight Cooley, Christopher Joe, and Robert Smith, while Sunday offers similar activities with Teddy Roosevelt and Bobby Harrison.
Meanwhile, in downtown Decatur, various venues will host engaging events throughout the festival. The Historic Decatur Union Train Depot will welcome visitors on Friday while showcasing their “crane train” display. Delano Park will be the backdrop of festivities with a story-time event accompanied by a Crane interpretive dancer at the Decatur Public Library. The Cook Museum of Natural Science opens its doors on Saturday, and The Princess Theatre presents a diverse lineup, including a performance on Friday night at 7 p.m. by The Prescriptions, a timeless rock and roll band for the modern world. On Saturday, Wings to Soar, the Teddy Roosevelt Show, Steve Trash, and a screening of "Wings Over Water" will take place with some performances repeating on Sunday
Additionally, the Decatur Public Library will host multiple children’s activities, including arts and crafts, and will provide information about local trails. The Alabama Center for the Arts features presentations and activities suitable for various age groups. The Carnegie Visual Arts Center offers an art workshop with Timothy Joe. Student art from Brewer, Decatur, and Priceville High School will be on display at the Priceville Event Center on Saturday, and there will be a shuttle from the Event Center to the Wheeler Visitor Center on Saturday only. These combined events promise an entertaining and enriching weekend for attendees of all interests.