Great Bird Festivals

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For a jaw-dropping natural spectacle, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. Of all the wildlife in the United States, birds attract the biggest following. According to the Service’s most recent National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, about 18 million people a year take trips to see wild birds. National wildlife refuges make great bird festival locales because they’re bird magnets; many protect important bird habitat along the country’s major flyways.

To see great masses of birds, look for festivals that coincide with spring or fall migration. Here are some major refuge-centered festivals events that have been scheduled:

August 24, 2015 - Want a thrill this fall? Stop at a bird festival on or near a national wildlife refuge to see the sky burst into motion and color. No experience needed. National wildlife refuges are great festival sites because their protected land and water draw so many birds. Here are some great fall bird festivals:


Cape Cod Bird Festival
September 18-20, 2015
Hyannis, MA
Look for migratory shorebirds including godwits, red knots, terns and piping plovers. Take a field trip led by refuge biologists to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge to learn how the refuge manages terns and nesting shorebirds. Field trips have a fee and require pre-registration:


Snow geese fill the sky at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM,
site of the annual Festival of the Cranes in November.
Credit: Gail Diane Yonavich

Cradle of Birding Festival
September 19, 2015, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA
See warblers and shorebirds on their way south, and maybe spot a bald eagle. This free Philadelphia festival features live animal shows, trolley tours, guided bird and nature walks (some geared for kids), live music, fishing, crafts and archery. Only a guided canoe trip has a fee and requires pre-registration: 215-365-3118. Learn how to attract butterflies to your garden. Accessible via SEPTA Bus Routes 37, 108 and 115; get off at the corner of 84th Street and Lindbergh Blvd.


Alabama Coastal BirdFest
September 30-October 3, 2015
Spanish Fort, AL
Enjoy guided boat and foot tours of prime birding spots including Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Along the way, see alligators, migrating monarch butterflies and dolphins. The Bird & Conservation Expo on Saturday is a free family event. Trips and evening events require advance registration: 251-625-0814,


Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
October 2-4, 2015
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Ridgefield, WA
Thrill to the sight of sandhill cranes, and learn why the American white pelican is the refuge’s bird of the year. Pick from a host of family-friendly events — many of them free —  including hikes, guided tours, a parade, a salmon bake and bow-making demonstrations. Twice-daily sandhill crane tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are $25 each. The annual festival along the lower Columbia River also includes features live music and activities at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale modern version of a Native American structure found in the old town of Cathlapotle. The 2015 festival will also celebrate the refuge’s 50th anniversary and the completion of a new pedestrian universal-access bridge. 


Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival
October 8-11, 2015
Cape Charles, VA
See migrating hawks, warblers and other songbirds funnel through the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula en route to warmer climes. Field trips to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Chincoteague and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges and boat trips through the marshes and seaside bays have a fee and require pre-registration: 716-725-9164. Free birding activities unrelated to the festival will take place Saturday on Chincoteague Refuge in honor of National Wildlife Refuge Week.


A white pelican exudes elegance at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL.
White pelicans are expected to start arriving in time for the refuge's bird festival in October.
Credit: Wayne Kliewer

Ding Darling Days
October 18-24, 2015
See white pelicans, the largest birds that winter at J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL. Enjoy a week of no-cost family activities, including bird walks, tours and paddling. All refuge events are free. Fees for tram tours and boat tours by Tarpon Bay Explorers are discounted for the festival.   


Wings over Water Festival
October 20-25 and December 4-6, 2015
Northeast North Carolina
Look for large flocks of migratory birds and waterfowl. Take field trips to six national wildlife refuges: Pea Island, Alligator River, Mattamuskeet, Currituck, Pocosin Lakes and Mackay Island. Choose from more than 100 wildlife-related programs including bird walks, paddling trips and talks on wildlife photography and natural history. Look for black bears and alligators. All programs have a fee and require pre-registration:
You can also register now for repeat field trips in December, when chances improve for seeing huge flocks of tundra swan, snow geese and other winter waterfowl. More info: 252-261-9464


Cape May Autumn Birding Festival
October 23-25, 2015
Cape May, NJ
In what other one place can you see raptors, songbirds and seabirds all migrate? The 69th annual event features guided walks, Back Bay boat trips, field trips, hawk banding demos and a live bird display.


Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival
November 4-8, 2015
Harlingen, Texas
Field trip destinations include Santa Ana, Lower Rio Grande Valley and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuges. Buses and minivans at the South Texas Refuge Complex will support festival-goers. Field trips have a fee and require advance registration:
Trade shows and family events are free.


Festival of the Cranes
November 17-22, 2015
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
See wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese by the thousands at this scenic refuge outside Socorro. Enjoy workshops, tours and other events at one of the most celebrated bird festivals in the country. Some family events are free. Fees for guided hikes are modest – about $8. Most tours and workshops have fees and require advance registration: 575-838-2120.


Assateague Island Waterfowl Weekend
November 26-29, 2015
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA,
Take a wildlife break on your Thanksgiving weekend.  Enjoy guided walks, tours and other special events to mark the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge, including snow geese migrating in from their northern tundra feeding grounds. Some tours will be in areas normally closed to the public. Enjoy a fee-free drive along the service road — a holiday tradition to be reinstated for the first time since Hurricane Sandy washed ashore.