Wildlife and Habitat


Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.  A diversity of habitat types provide excellent feeding, resting, and roosting sites for wintering waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes , as well as nesting sites for neotropical migrant birds and many species of resident wildlife.

  • Wildlife

    Geese flying 150x118

    Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent habitat for many species of native wildlife. A total of 300 species of birds, 47 species of mammals, 75 species of reptiles and amphibians, 115 species of fish, 38 species of freshwater mussels, and 26 species of freshwater snails have been documented on the refuge.

  • Waterfowl


    Considered the eastern most national wildlife refuge of the Mississippi Flyway, Wheeler NWR annually supports Alabama’s largest concentration of wintering waterfowl. In the past, the refuge has supported up to 60,000 geese and nearly 125,000 ducks. Since 1990, winter goose populations have dropped dramatically. Present day numbers usually peak around 2,000 for geese and 75,000 for ducks. The first ducks to appear at Wheeler in September is the Blue-winged teal, followed by other species throughout October and November. Numbers peak in early January. Waterfowl may be viewed from the Observation Building and large concentrations of both diving and dabbling ducks can be found at the waterfowl impoundment area.

    Waterfowl Surveys

  • Sandhill Crane


    In contrast to Canada geese, Sandhill crane numbers are increasing at Wheeler NWR. Prior to 1997, Sandhill cranes occurred in small numbers on the refuge. In 1997, 26 Sandhill cranes were observed and by 2002 the number wintering on the refuge had increased to almost 400. In 2017/2018 the number peaked at 20,000. The cranes begin arriving in late November and numbers peak in early January. The best place to view them is from the Observation Building where they can be seen in large numbers feeding in the crop fields.

  • Whooping Crane


    The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was formed in 1999 to restore a self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes in eastern North America. In January of 2006, two Whoopers from one of the Operation Migration cohorts were discovered on the refuge. Since then, Whooping Cranes have wintered each year on the refuge. During the winter of 2017-2018, up to 29 Whoopers spent a portion of their winter on the refuge. In recent years, they have frequented areas around the visitor center and wildlife observation building, allowing thousands of refuge visitors the opportunity to view them and learn their amazing story.

  • Agricultural Fields

    Ag_Field_ 150x118

    Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge has an active cooperative farming program in which 3,500 acres are planted annually. The goal of the program is to provide food and cover for migratory birds and other resident wildlife. The program supplements natural foods with grain foods, such as corn, milo, small seeded millets, and green browse.

  • Waterfowl Impoundments


    Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge manages 16 impoundments to provide approximately 2,000 acres of waterfowl habitat in open water, moist soil, and in areas where agricultural crops can be flooded. Generally, impoundments are filled in the fall by rainfall or through spring seepage. Impoundments are not filled with water until farmers harvest crops and just prior to the time birds begin to arrive at the refuge.

  • Swamps


    Swamps are regularly flooded forested areas dominated by cypress, tupelo, and wetland oaks, often with substantial shrub or herbaceous vegetation. Approximately 2,000 acres of swamp habitat is located on Wheeler NWR.

  • Karst Formations (Caves and Sinkholes)


    Caves are unique environments that house rare wildlife species, mineral formations, and valuable ground water resources. Caves in the Tennessee River basin are generally formed by water dissolving away limestone over long periods of time. Caves located on Wheeler NWR include: Cave Springs, Copperhead, and Rockhouse.