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 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 birdlife. 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.
Directions: 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.
GPS: N 34.5480, W 86.9505
Amenities: Visitor Center, Information, Parking, Restrooms, Handicap Access, Lookout Tower, Viewing Area, Hiking
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
2700 Refuge Headquarters Rd.
Decatur, AL 35603