CONTACT: Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association
PHONE: 256.350.3500 / 800.648.5381

Calling All Bird Nerds: Festival of the Cranes Set for Jan. 11-12

Decatur, Ala. – Over 14,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. In celebration of the winter migration of the long-legged and long-necked birds, Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association hosts a two-day event filled with nature walks, live raptors, music and special programs for experienced birders and anyone who would like to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the Refuge home. Set for January 11-12, 2020, the seventh annual Festival of the Cranes takes place at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Ala. 

During Festival of the Cranes, guests are invited to visit the observation building to view thousands of sandhill cranes along with several whooping cranes, ducks, geese, raptors and perhaps a bald eagle from the comfort of the heated building. There are bleachers and spotting scopes available along with volunteers and staff standing by to answer questions. 

The event kicks off bright and early Saturday, January 11 at 6:30 a.m. with a fundraiser breakfast ($5 donation) sponsored by the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association and an early morning birding walk to see cranes and other waterfowl arrive in the fields to begin their day of feeding and loafing. A variety of activities and educational opportunities are lined up throughout the day at the Visitor Center including Birding 101 course, a photography presentation by photographer/author Paul Bannick, a special presentation by acclaimed author, storyteller and naturalist Brian “Fox” Ellis, a presentation by Dr. John Dindo from the Dauphin Sea Lab and special activities for children to take part in.

The lineup for Sunday, January 12 includes special activities for children and festival goers can choose from a photography workshop hosted by Paul Bannick or experience the many “Crane Tales” from storyteller  Brian “Fox” Ellis. Dr. Doug Phillips of the APT series Discovering Alabama will present at 10:30 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m. At 3:00 p.m., join Brian “Fox” Ellis as John James Audubon for a unique bird watching adventure along the Atkeson Cypress Trail.

Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center returns with its popular educational program. During the program, the public is treated to an up-close look at hawks, eagles, falcons and owls while learning about their habitats, conservation and ecology. Three showings will be offered at the Princess Theatre during the two-day festival.

In addition, the Alabama Center for the Arts and Carnegie Visual Arts Center will host special exhibits and workshops in conjunction with Festival of the Cranes. Grammy winning artist Kathy Mattea will perform a special concert at 8 p.m., Jan. 10 at the Princess Theatre. Tickets may be purchased from the Princess Theatre or online at

Parking at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is very limited. Visitors are encouraged to use the shuttle service from the Princess Theatre from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. during both days of the festival. Shuttle wristbands allow each person that makes a purchase ($2 round trip per person), unlimited rides to and from the event site. Wristbands may be purchased in advance at the NARCOG Transit Office, located at 401 2nd Ave SE in Decatur (between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday), or at the shuttle access point on the day of the event. Cash only and correct change must be used. 

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 or call Teresa Adams, supervisory ranger for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, at 256.350.6639.

About Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA)
AMLA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and development of the travel industry within the 16 northernmost counties of the state. It is supported by 500-plus members consisting of chambers of commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureaus, attractions, campgrounds, festivals, communities, counties, golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, vendors, financial institutions and individuals. Counties included within the AMLA region are Blount, Cherokee, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan and Winston. Additional information on North Alabama destinations, accommodations and special events is available by calling 800.648.5381 or by visiting Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @VisitNorthAL and like us at