A day of nature walks, live raptors, and refuge tours is planned when the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge holds the second annual Festival of the Cranes. Set for January 11, 2014, the celebration of Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes will bring together experienced birders and those who would like to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the Refuge home.
Over 12,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Hosted by the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association, the Festival of the Cranes kicks off at 6 a.m. with a Sunrise Breakfast in the Visitor Center classroom. Following breakfast, Refuge Manager Dwight Cooley will lead an early morning birding walk to see cranes and other waterfowl arrive in the fields to begin their day of feeding and loafing. Breakfast cost is $5 per person and participants are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring binoculars and a camera.
Throughout the day, the enclosed Wildlife Observation Building will offer views of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, along with Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, raptors, and maybe a bald eagle. There will be bleachers and spotting scopes available along with volunteers and staff members on hand to answer questions.
At 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., Joan Garland, education outreach coordinator for the International Crane Foundation, will speak on the efforts to restore a migratory flock of Whopping cranes to eastern North America. The Whooping crane is on the verge of a comeback after nearly becoming extinct due to human activities. In 1941, the last migratory flock was reduced to only 16 birds.
Additional activities include two showings of Hope Takes Wing, a film by and about Operation Migration chronicling the history of the Whooping crane, and two presentations by the Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center to teach about birds of prey and offer an up-close look at owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be a pizza lunch with proceeds benefitting the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association. The daylong event concludes at 5 p.m.
The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is located at 3121 Visitor Center Road in Decatur. For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, visit www.friendsofwheelerrefuge.org or call Teresa Adams, supervisory ranger for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, at 256.350.6639.
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. The 75th Anniversary Celebration featuring live raptors and wildlife, children’s activities, and special guest and master of ceremonies “T.R. Roosevelt” as portrayed by Joe Wiegand, is set for December 7, 2013. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/wheeler.