By Vanessa Kauffman, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Looking for a special bird to add to your life list? Brand new to birding and just thrill to the sight of thousands of migrating birds? Either way, bird festivals beckon you to national wildlife refuges throughout the year and from coast to coast.
National wildlife refuges often are festival sites because so many are located along the country’s key migratory bird routes. Many festivals coincide with spring or fall migration. Here are some great refuge bird festivals to catch in 2017.
The National Wildlife Refuge System, part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, protects natural habitat for America’s treasured wildlife species.
The mission of the US Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.
For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
Festival of the Cranes — January 14-15, 2017 — Decatur, Alabama
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes plus whooping cranes and white pelicans at Wheeler National Wildlife. The easternmost refuge in the Mississippi Flyway, Wheeler Refuge boasts Alabama’s largest population of wintering ducks. Enjoy workshops, nature walks, live raptors and kids’ activities.
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival — January 25-30, 2017 — Titusville, Florida
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a field trip destination for this yearly bird festival, billed as one of the country’s largest and best.
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway — January 25-29, 2017 — Chico, California
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is one of several field trip destinations for this major West Coast bird festival. The refuge, a Central Valley birding hotspot, boasts a large viewing platform overlooking wetlands teeming with bird life, a photography blind (available by reservation), an auto-tour route and miles of trails.
Sparrow Fest — February 4, 2017 — Marble Falls, Texas
The ever-popular sparrow workshop celebrates its 13th anniversary in 2017 with a return to a single-day workshop plus morning and afternoon field trips at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Birding and learning at its best!
Winter Wings Bird Festival — February 16-19, 2017 — Klamath Falls, Oregon
The four-day festival offers visitors the chance to visit nearby Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Crater Lake National Park and other Klamath Basin birding hotspots.
Winter Bird Festival — February 11, 2017 — Burbank, Washington
Discover McNary National Wildlife Refuge’s abundance of ducks, swans, geese and other birds. Enjoy a live bird program by Blue Mountain Wildlife, wildlife photography presentations, waterfowl tours and Sketchout, an art activity for all ages. The Friends of Mid-Columbia River Wildlife Refuge is hosting the event.
Eagle Watching Day — February 11, 2017 — Brussels, Illinois
Learn about bald eagles at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, then venture out to watch for eagles with a refuge ranger. Experienced eagle watchers will be set up with viewing scopes at various locations at the wildlife refuge.
Florida Scrub-Jay Festival — February 18, 2017 — Jupiter. Florida
The festival at Jonathan Dickensen State Park celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Florida scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and environmental exhibits.
San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival — February 10-12, 2017 — Vallejo, California
This celebrates the more than one million shorebirds and hundreds of thousands of ducks plus hawks and other wildlife that pass through the Bay area. The festival includes field trips to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping Crane Festival — February 23-28 — Port Aransas, Texas
Port Aransas, two hours from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, bills itself as “America’s Birdiest Small Coastal City.” Festival-goers have a chance to see cranes in their winter habitat.
San Diego Bird Festival — February 23-26, 2017 — Marina Village Park, San Diego, California
Festival field trip destinations include San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Also featured: workshops, sea bird trips and cultural activities.
Monte Vista Crane Festival — March 10-12, 2017 — Monte Vista, Colorado
Thrill to the sight of thousands of sandhill cranes that stop and rest here each spring on their way back north. This year’s 34rd annual festival includes bus tours to Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Lots of waterfowl add to wildlife viewing opportunities. Enjoy workshops and birding tours.
Othello Sandhill Crane Festival — March 24-26, 2017 — Othello, Washington
Experience the beauty and wonder of the natural world, highlighted by the return of sandhill cranes to the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington. Columbia National Wildlife Refuge is one of many field trip destinations. The three-day community event includes wildlife tours, lectures on the area’s natural and cultural heritage, an art contest and children’s activities.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival — April 6-9, 2017 — Burns, Oregon
See the spectacular spring migration in the Harney Basin of Southeast Oregon. View thousands of migratory birds – waterfowl, shorebirds, cranes, raptors, wading birds and songbirds – as they rest and feed in the open spaces of Oregon’s high desert. Author and photographer Noah Strycker is a featured speaker, following his world record of 6,042 bird species observed around the world.
Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Festival — April 8-9, 2017 — Eagle Lake, Texas
See the courtship dance of the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken in coastal prairie habitat at this annual celebration at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. Early morning van tours will take participants up to one of the booming grounds to watch the male prairie-chicken’s famous courtship dance. Other events include wildflower and native plant guided tours, bird walks and birding van tours with experienced birders, refuge tours and a booth sponsored by the Friends of Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge.
Godwit Days — April 19-25, 2017 — Arcata, California
Field trip destinations for this festival along the northern California coast include Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The event also includes scores of eco-tours and workshops, an art show and live birds of prey.
Featherfest — April 6-9, 2017 — Galveston, Texas
Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival — April 20-22, 2017 — Suffolk/Chesapeake, Virginia
Enjoy a festival in a birder’s paradise during the height of the spring neotropical songbird migration. You might catch a glimpse of a Swainson’s warbler and Wayne’s warbler, two of North America’s most secretive birds. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a birder’s paradise with more than 200 types of birds either residing here or just passing through. The festival is part of International Migratory Bird Day, which celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds between their breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central and South America.
Balcones Songbird Festival — April 21-23, 2017 — Marble Falls, Texas
Enjoy guided birding and nature tours of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, which boasts some of the finest birding habitat in the state.
Birding and Blues Festival — April 21-23, 2017 — Pacific City, Oregon
Celebrate the spring migration of birds and the natural resources of South Tillamook County and Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The festival provides educational, cultural, recreational and economic opportunities to the residents and businesses of Pacific City and attracts visitors of all ages and skill levels.
International Migratory Bird Day — May 2017 — Nationwide
International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is the only international education program that highlights and celebrates the migration of nearly 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Each year IMBD explores a different aspect of migratory birds and their conservation. This year, many events will take place on May 13. Many wildlife refuges take part in IMBD celebrations. As the date approaches, check the Refuge System special events calendar for more IMBD event listings.
Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival — May 5-7, 2017 — Hoquiam, Washington
Celebrate the spring migration of shorebirds along the Washington coast. Field trips to birding hotspots, lectures, vendors, exhibitors and great shorebird viewing take place at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.
Horicon Marsh Bird Festival — May 12-13, 2017 — Southeastern Wisconsin
For the past 50 years, Horicon Marsh Boat Tours has been helping people experience one of America’s great natural treasures. Avid birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts and people just curious about the Horicon Marsh have found new adventure on the pontoon boat tour.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival — May 4-7, 2017 — Homer, Alaska
The state of Alaska’s largest wildlife festival includes field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Biggest Week in American Birding — May 5-14, 2017 — Northwest Ohio
This major bird festival, organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, takes place at the peak of spring bird migration in the Lake Erie Marsh region of the state. The festival features field trips to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
South Dakota Birding Festival — May 5-7, 2017 — Fort Randall, South Dakota
Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge and Karl E. Mundt National Wildlife Refuge are the host locations for this annual festival. The festival offers a rare opportunity to see Karl E. Mundt Refuge, normally closed to the public. The festival includes field trips by foot and bus, songbird banding and presentations.
Wings Over Muscatatuck Bird Festival — May 13, 2017 — Seymour, Indiana
The all-day festival at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge includes guided bird van tours, bird and nature walks, kids’ activities, live birds of prey programs, birdhouse building, a bird-calling contest and the Junior Duck Stamp Contest Awards ceremony.
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival — May 18-22, 2017 — Farmington, Utah
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s field trip destinations.
Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival — May 18-20, 2017 — Ashland, Wisconsin
The 10th annual festival on Wisconsin’s south shore of Lake Superior features field trips to Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, guided by US Fish and Wildlife Service staff. Other field trip and hike destinations: the Moquah Pine Barrens, Bibon Swamp, Morgan Falls and St. Peter’s Dome.
Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds — May 18-21, 2017 — Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Tours of Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge will be part of this year’s 20th annual festival. There are morning field trips for birding, workshops for learning, exhibitors and socials.
Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival — May 18-21, 2017 — Kenai, Alaska
This festival includes field trips to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, workshops, kids’ activities and a Kenai River float with local birding experts.
Down East Spring Birding Festival — May 27-29, 2017 — Calais, Maine area
The annual festival includes guided hikes, boat tours and expert presentations. It also features field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, one of the event sponsors.
Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival — June 14-18, 2017 — Carrington, North Dakota
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Watershed Festival — September 30, 2017 — Olympia, Washington
A day-long event celebrating the natural, cultural and economic history of the Nisqually River Watershed held at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Alabama Coastal BirdFest — October 4-7, 2017 — Spanish Fort, Alabama
This annual event with guided trips, speakers, dinners and free activities takes place on the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast, including prime birding tours at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass — October 7-8, 2017 — Ridgefield, Washington
Join Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate the coming of fall and the wildlife that make the refuge their home. The annual festival, along the lower Columbia River, offers guided bus tours, Audubon bird shows, live music, arts and crafts and activities at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Native American structure found in the old town of Cathlapotle.
Ding Darling Days — October 15-21, 2017 — Sanibel, Florida
Enjoy a week of fun-filled and informative programs, bird walks, tours, paddling and family activities at J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival — November 8-12, 2017 — Harlingen, Texas
Field trip destinations include Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Buses and minivans at the South Texas Refuge Complex will support festival-goers.
Fall Flight Festival — November 13, 20 and 27, 2017 — Las Vegas, New Mexico
The Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge offers interpretive programs with naturalists posted at the lakes to help visitors identify waterfowl. The managed areas of the refuge are open to the public to drive around the lakes, where naturalists will be able to help visitors identify waterfowl.
Music and Migration — November 11, 2017 — Albuquerque, New Mexico
Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge’s 4th annual Music and Migration event will have live musical performances and tours to see cranes, among other activities.
Festival of the Cranes — November 14-19, 2017 — Socorro, New Mexico
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese by the thousands at the spectacular Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just outside of the City of Socorro, about an hour’s drive from Albuquerque. Enjoy workshops, tours and other events at one of the most celebrated bird festivals in the country.
Refuge Waterfowl Week — November 19-26, 2017 — Chincoteague, Virginia
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge will offer guided walks, tours and other special events to mark the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge. Some tours will be in areas normally closed to the public. The refuge provides habitat for greater snow geese and many other migratory birds. Note that the refuge is also holding a special celebration in October, with details pending on their website.
Wings Over Water Encore — December 8-10, 2017 — Manteo, North Carolina
WOW Encore is intended especially for birders and photographers interested in seeing large flocks of migratory birds and waterfowl with trips that include five national wildlife refuges: Pea Island, Alligator River, Mattamuskeet, Pocosin Lakes and Mackay Island. Also included: classroom programs, bird walks, paddling trips, and talks on wildlife photography and natural history. Keynote speaker will be World Big Year Birding record holder Noah Strycker, who will also lead a few birding programs. *Ed. Note that this event was listed in both October and December; however December is when it is generally scheduled.