Northern Alabama houses four unique National Wildlife Refuges: Wheeler, Sauta Cave, Fern Cave, and Key Cave. The refuges conserve Alabamas natural resources and protect critical habitat for wildlife. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge may be the largest of the group. Another three are administered as satellites of Wheeler.
The refuge provides winter habitat for migratory birds, especially Canada geese. It is also home to the states largest population of ducks. Winter visitors may also see populations of sandhill cranes and sometimes whooping cranes. Visitors Center contains interpretive wildlife displays, and a glass enclosed wildlife viewing building provides an excellent place for waterfowl viewing.
A 5 mile nature trail with a boardwalk takes visitors through a portion of cypress swamp. Gleam picnic area at the facility. Visitors Center is open daily from October-February from 9am-5pm. From March-September visitors Center is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm.
Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge is situated five miles southwest of Florence in northwest Alabama. The cave provides critical habitat for the only known population of the jeopardized Alabama cavefish, among the rarest freshwater fish. Key Cave can be a maternity cave for jeopardized gray bats. On the northern shore of Pickwick Lake, Key Cave Refuge consists hardwood forest, grassland, and croplands. Even though refuge is available to the general public, Key Cave is not open because of the potential disturbance of the jeopardized species. Activities that may be done at the refuge include hiking, hunting, and wildlife observation.
Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge (formerly referred to as Blowing wind Cave) is situated seven miles west of Scottsboro on Highway 72. It really is located above Sauty Creek on Guntersville Lake. The refuge protects both gray and Indiana bats and their habitat. In winter the bats hibernate in the cave and in summer the cave may be the breeding site for 200, 000-300, 000 gray bats. The cave itself is closed to the public, but from June through August bats may be viewed emerging from the cave entrance at night. The very best viewing point is situated 100 yards in the park entrance. Other popular activities at the refuge include hiking, photography, and wildlife observation.
Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge is situated on County Road 500, off Highway 72 near Paint Rock, Alabama. Access to the refuge is difficult and requires hiking in along the Paint Rock River. The cave, which is closed to the public, houses the biggest winter colony of gray bats in america, and a large colony of Indiana bats. The terrain is rugged, and viewings here are difficult. The refuge is open all year round during hours of sunlight.
A trip to any of these refuges in northern Alabama provides an excellent possibility to observe wildlife. Wheeler Refuge undoubtedly gets the easiest access and the most readily useful facilities. But a trip to any of the others at night supplies the unique chance for visitors to watch hundreds of bats emerging from their caves to feed.