DECATUR, Ala. - If you've never seen a crane in real life, the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge has you covered.
"15 years ago, it was rare to see a sand hill crane," stated Refuge Manager Rickey Ingram. "Last year we had 28,000 peak and so far this year, we've had about 15,000."
This weekend is the Seventh Annual Festival of the Cranes, celebrating the fact that these birds spend the winter here in North Alabama.
"When we decided to have the festival, it was to celebrate the fact that we had so many sand hill cranes coming to the area, which has not always been that way for the refuge, for the area of North Alabama," said Park Ranger Teresa Adams.
Being able to see these birds in real life is an experience refuge employees say everyone should have, but they say the educational factor is most important.
"All of our programs here at the refuge is an attempt to educate people about conservation and about what we do here at the refuge," Adams explained.
"It's very important, especially now with our younger population that likes to spend more of their time on phones and internet and things, to get out and experience nature and see what's in the world," Ingram added.
Wildlife lovers say they know the cranes won't stay forever, but it's an honor to be their home for the winter months.
The festival continues all day on Sunday, January 13 at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur. You can find more information on the event's Facebook page.