Whooping cranes in North Alabama – here’s where to see them

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Whooping cranes make North Alabama their home from November to March. (George Lee/International Crane Foundation)

The endangered whooping crane is one of the rarest birds in North America, and North Alabama is lucky enough to serve as home to these beautiful birds for a small portion of the year.

Whooping cranes come to North Alabama each year from November to March, and there are a few spots where you can get a glimpse of these rare birds.

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An Endangered Species

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Prior to 1950, there were only 20 whooping cranes in the wild. (International Crane Foundation)

Whooping cranes are North America’s tallest flying bird standing at 5 feet tall. They have white feathers throughout their body and wings with the exception of black wingtips, a red patch on their forehead, and a black, mustache-like mask on their cheeks.

Throughout their range, these cranes are habitat specialists and wetlands provide them with food, water, and protection from predators while foraging and roosting. In addition to wetlands, whooping cranes will also use larger agricultural fields for daytime foraging.

The efforts to bring the whooping crane population back has been slowly successful, as only 20 of these birds remained in the wild prior to 1950. According to the Jesse Taylor of the International Crane Foundation, these cranes were almost lost forever as a result of widespread habitat loss, unregulated hunting, and the millinery trade.

Today there are more than 800 whooping cranes in the world and their numbers are continuing to grow.

“The presence of whooping cranes in our state has encouraged people of all ages to get out into nature to try and catch a glimpse of this rare and endangered species, and we urge you to do so as well!”

Jesse Taylor, International Crane Foundation

Where to see them

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Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur is home to many of these rare cranes. (International Crane Foundation)

According to the International Crane Foundation, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is the best place in Alabama to view the endangered whooping crane and its more common relative, the sandhill crane. On average, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge hosts about 20,000 sandhill cranes and 18 whooping cranes each year.

In addition to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, North Alabama has hundreds of miles of trails to encourage people to get outside to see these cranes.

However, Taylor said that when viewing wildlife, people must remember to “be respectful and keep a distance of at least 200 yards, stay on designated trails, and leave no trace.”

The Festival of the Cranes

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Check out the Festival of the Cranes in Decatur this month. (Wheeler Wildlife Refuge)

To celebrate the cranes in Alabama, check out the Festival of the Cranes in Decatur. The Festival of the Cranes will be held January 13-15, 2023. This free, family-friendly festival celebrates North Alabama’s cranes and provides opportunities for people to visit the refuge to see the cranes in their natural environment.

The festival will take place in downtown Decatur, Alabama due to ongoing renovations at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge’s visitor center. However, the refuge’s observation building and new photo blind will be open for crane viewing.

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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