Festival of the Cranes alights in Decatur this weekend

Sandhill And Whooping Cranes At Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in December 2017. (David Frings)

Thousands of sandhill cranes have made their way to the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, and you’re invited to visit them this weekend.

Festival of the Cranes 2022 began this morning with an art show at the Old State Bank in Decatur. Below, see more information on why the cranes are important and five events you don’t want to miss.

Why cranes?

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Sandhill Cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. (The Bama Buzz)

Every winter, normal migration patterns bring thousands of sandhill cranes to North Alabama. The sandhill cranes don’t come alone, though—they bring along a much smaller group of whooping cranes, a rare species that was on the brink of extinction a century ago.

Since conservation efforts began in earnest around the early 1940s, the whooping crane population in North America has been restored from less than two dozen known cranes to more than 800 by current estimates.

Sandhill cranes are much more common, as they are currently under no threat of extinction or endangerment.

Both whooping cranes and sandhill cranes settle down in Alabama for the winter, leaving colder climates behind for a few months and providing a spectacle for locals to experience.

1. John Paul White in concert

Where: Princess Theatre
When: Friday, January 14, 7PM
What to know: John Paul White is a North Alabama native currently living in Florence. Formerly a member of The Civil Wars, his music is a blend of folk, indie and Americana sounds. Get tickets.

2. Wild about Whoopers

Wild About Whoopers Flyer
Wild about Whoopers takes place on Saturday, January 15. (Cook Museum of Natural Science)

Where: Cook Museum of Natural Science
When: Saturday, January 15, all day
What to know: The Cook Museum of Natural Science will be celebrating cranes all day, with an assortment of activities like coloring, Cool Crane presentations and collectible cards.

3. Sunrise Breakfast at the Refuge

Dozens Of Sandhill Cranes At Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Thousands of sandhill cranes are currently wintering at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. (David Frings)

Where: Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
When: Saturday, January 15, 6:30AM
What to know: A $5 donation to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge gets you breakfast and a birding walk through the refuge to see the cranes start their day.

4. Overland documentary presentation

Where: Princess Theatre
When: Saturday, January 15, 7PM
What to know: Featuring falconer Lauren McGough, Overland tells the story of three individuals working to preserve and connect with the natural world. McGough will also be giving presentations throughout the weekend at the Princess Theatre and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

5. Kids’ Crane Activities

Sandhill Cranes In Flight
Are you planning to attend the Festival of the Cranes this year? (David Frings)

Where: Decatur Public Library
When: Saturday, January 15, 3-5PM; Sunday, January 16, 10AM-12PM and 2-4PM
What to know: The Decatur Public Library will have crafts, face painting and other activities for kids to enjoy Saturday and Sunday.


Get the full schedule of events on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge’s website.

Are you planning to attend Festival of the Cranes this year? What event are you most looking forward to? Let us know on Facebook and Instagram.

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Emily Phillips
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