North Alabama National Wildlife Refuge ranked #2 best in the country by USA Today

Wheeler Wildlife Refugre
Sandhill cranes at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama. (The Bama Buzz)

Have you made the trip to Decatur to spend time at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge? If you haven’t, you may want to start planning.

The wildlife refuge is getting even more national recognition after being named to USA Today’s 10 Best national wildlife refuges to visit. Wheeler finished No. 2 on the list, just shy of the top spot which was taken by Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.

USA Today said the refuge’s diversity of habitats surrounding a portion of the Tennessee River helps it stand out from others across the country. The outlet specifically cited:

  • Bottomland hardwood forests
  • Wetlands
  • Grasslands
  • Agricultural fields
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The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama is home to several different species. (The Bama Buzz)

For the Birds

If you have been to Wheeler, you are likely familiar with the cranes who return to the refuge every year when they migrate south during colder weather. But that’s not the only birds you can find at the refuge.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the refuge has at least 300 different species of birds including:

  • Sandhill crane
  • Whooping crane
  • Bald eagle
  • Short-eared owl
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Osprey
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The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama is home to over 300 different species of birds. (The Bama Buzz)

USA Today called Wheeler “a key stopover for migratory birds along the Mississippi Flyway, hosting a wide variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, and birds of prey.”

When to visit

If you are hoping to get a good look at the cranes, the peak time of year is toward the end of December and the beginning of January. However, you will likely start to see them show up in bigger numbers in November before mostly leaving by the end of February.

If you are heading to Decatur for a good fishing spot, FWS says it could be a good time as early as late February. Crappie fishing is at its best in March while bass and bluegill fishing picks up closer to June.

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Sandhill cranes at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama. (The Bama Buzz)

Do you have any favorite memories or photos from the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge? Make sure to post them and tag us @thebamabuzz on social media!

Caleb Turrentine
Caleb Turrentine
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