Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge’s (NWR’s) showpiece Visitor Center (Site #16, Central Loop) serves as the gateway to the North Alabama Birding Trail. The Visitor Center hosts a series of interpretive exhibits that explain the refuge’s numerous residents, the ecology of these organisms, as well as information on the early human residents of the Tennessee River Valley. Refuge personnel have set up a feeding station behind the center which attracts finches, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice and Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. After visiting the Center, explore the short trail that lead to an impressive observation building. This temperature-controlled facility is ideal for watching the hundreds (and hundreds) of geese, ducks, and Sandhill Cranes that spend the winter on the refuge.
Some years, the very endangered Whooping Cranes spend their entire winter near the visitor center, as well! In recent years, as many as 18 Whooping Cranes have been seen here, with several visible almost every day during the winter months–all from the convenience of the accessible observation building. With two stories and several spotting scopes for visitors’ use, the building is perfect for large groups or introducing new birders to the wonders of northern Alabama’s bird life. There is also a feeding station and small pond which is visible from the rear of the Observation Tower. To your right as you leave from the front of the Center, there is another short trail leading through a mixed pine-hardwood area, which hosts woodland songbirds.
GPS: 34.5480, -86.9505
Amenities: Visitor Center, Information, Parking, Restrooms, Handicap Access, Lookout Tower, Viewing Area, Hiking
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Wheeler NWR Visitor Center
3121 Visitor Center Road
Decatur, AL 35603
Wildlife Observation Trail
The Wildlife Observation trail is located directly behind the Visitor Center. The Observation Building, at the end of the 200 yard trail, overlooks a waterfowl/wildlife display pool. During spring, summer, and fall, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers in the Backyard Wildlife Area. Several feeders are filled year-round to attract various species of birds including: chickadees, tufted titmice, finches, sparrows, northen cardinals, and bluejays. During winter, thousands of ducks,geese and sandhill cranes can be viewed comfortably from the Observation Building. With a microphone (allowing the sounds on the pond to be heard in the building) and spotting scopes, the observation building is certainly a must on any visit to the Refuge. The observation building opens and closes with the Visitor Center. The trail is well maintained and universally accessible.
This is one of the best places in Alabama for birding--and it is very possibly the best place for accessibility to large numbers of birds, particularly in winter. Restrooms and visitor center are accessible as is the Wildlife Observation Trail that leads to a two story wildlife observation building, which is also accessible on the first floor, providing spectacular views, including seating and a spotting scope. For best results, bring your own scope and/or binoculars. There are two trails at the visitor center and both are accessible.
If approaching the refuge from the west from the intersection of US Highway 31 and AL Highway 67 in southern Decatur, travel east 1.9 miles to the entrance of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on the right. If approaching the refuge from the east and I-65 from the intersection of Highway 67 and I-65, take Highway 67 and travel 2.8 miles west to the Visitor Center on the left.
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