Festival of the Cranes
Decatur, Ala. (December 14, 2020) – Over 14,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Ala. In celebration of the winter migration of these long-legged and long-necked birds, Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association hosts an event offering a variety of activities for experienced birders and anyone who would like to learn more about birding and other wildlife that call the Refuge home.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, modifications to the 2021 Festival of the Cranes have been implemented as additional safety measures for attendees. The event is set for January 9 with presentations held at the Princess Theatre located at 112 2nd Avenue in downtown Decatur. Admission to each of the presentations is free and seating is limited (due to social distancing guidelines) with first come, first served admission.
9:00 a.m. - Video presentation by Master Falconer Lauren McGough
McGough has been a licensed and practicing falconer since age 14 and has been particularly enamored with gold eagles as hunting partners, a unique branch of falconry that has only a handful of practitioners in the United States. She learned to hunt with eagles through years of living with the nomadic people of Mongolia, as featured in a 2018 segment of 60 Minutes.
10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. – Auburn University Southeastern Raptor Center live performance
The Southeastern Raptor Center presents their educational program to teach about birds of prey. Attendees can see hawks, eagles, falcons and owls up close while learning about habitats, conservation and ecology.
2:30 p.m. – Snowy Owl: A Visual Natural History video presentation by Paul Bannick
The video presentation provides rare intimate looks into the life history of one of the world’s most charismatic birds. In the presentation, the physical features, preferred habitats, breeding cycle, hunting strategies, as well as prey and conservation issues are explored through several dozen never-before published images.
4 p.m. – Gareth Laffely live performance
Laffely is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer and producer from Gallatin, Tenn., whose music has been licensed by the Discovery Channel, NASCAR and Public Television. An award winning Native American flute player and composer, Laffely is of Mi’kmaq/Cree descent.
5:30 p.m. – Ben Raines Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Biodiverse River System live presentation
Raines has won more than two dozen awards for his coverage of environmental issues and natural wonders in Alabama and on the Gulf Coast and coauthored several peer reviewed papers published in scientific journals. He wrote and produced the documentary America’s Amazon, which has aired on PBS stations around the country.
In addition to the presentations at the Princess Theatre, a variety of activities are planned in the community before, during and after the Festival of the Cranes.
- Jan. 8 - Feb. 19: Festival of the Cranes Art Exhibition at the Alabama Center for the Arts
- Jan. 9: Bird and nature art journaling workshop led by Timothy Joe at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center https://www.carnegiearts.org/event/bird-nature-art-journaling-workshop/
- Jan. 7 - 9: Lunch and Learn Lecture Series, movies and crafts at the Cook Museum of Natural Science https://www.cookmuseum.org/calendar/wild-about-whoopers-2/?occurrence=2021-01-07.
For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, visit https://www.friendsofwheelerrefuge.com/festival-of-the-cranes-2021 or follow www.facebook.com/FOCatWheeler for the latest updates.
ADA Accessibility Notes
Ages Festival is Appropriate For
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 free 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.
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.
A variety of activities and educational opportunities are lined up during the two-day event at the Visitor Center including Birding 101 course, a photography presentation and special activities for children to take part in.
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.
How to Get There
Follow I-65 to AL-67 N/Point Mallard Pkwy SE in Priceville. Take exit 334 from I-65. Head east on Hwy. 67 to Entrance of Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on left.
Parking at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is very limited during festival hours. 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.