New birder or old hand? No matter. Refuge bird festivals pack thrills for everyone. It’s hard not to be moved by the sight of more birds erupting in flight than you’ve ever seen in your life.
National wildlife refuges make great festival sites because so many of these special places 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 2016.
Festival of the Cranes
January 9-10, 2016
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, AL
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes plus whooping cranes and white pelicans. 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 20-25, 2016
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. Register by January 15 to attend workshops, exhibits and demonstrations.
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
January 27-31, 2016
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 hiking trails.
Winter Wings Bird Festival
February 11-14, 2016
Klamath Falls, OR
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. Register by February 7.
Eagle Watching Open House
February 13, 2016; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, IL
Learn about bald eagles. 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.
The Florida Scrub Jay Festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State.
Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
February 13, 2016; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Oscar Scherer State Park, Osprey, FL
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Florida scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound, Lake Wales Ridge and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuges. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and environmental exhibits.
Whooping Crane Festival
February 25-28, 2016
Port Aransas, TX
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. Wade Harrell, whooping crane recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based at Aransas Refuge, is a festival panelist on February 27.
San Diego Bird Festival
March 3-6, 2016
Marina Village Park, San Diego, CA
Festival field trip destinations include San Diego Refuge, San Diego Bay Refuge and Tijuana Slough Refuge. Also featured: workshops, sea bird trips and cultural activities.
Monte Vista Crane Festival
March 11-13, 2016
Monte Vista, CO
Thrill to the sight of thousands of sandhill cranes that stop and rest here each spring on their way back north. This year’s 33rd 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 18-20, 2016
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 7-10, 2016
Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Festival
April 9-10, 2016
Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, Eagle Lake, TX
See the courtship dance of the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken in coastal prairie habitat at this annual celebration. Tours to view these imperiled birds start at 7 a.m.
April 13-19, 2016
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.
A pair of royal terns commune at the Texas City Dike, near the site of the Galveston FeatherFest.
Credit: Jon Turman
April 14-17, 2016
The festival includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Bayou Teche Black Bear and Birding Festival
April 15-16, 2016
The threatened Louisiana black bear gets top billing, but this annual festival also celebrates bird species found in North America’s largest river swamp, such as the American white pelican and roseate spoonbill. The festival features guided boat tours and paddling trips into Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge. Find updates on the Friends of Bayou Teche Refuge website as the festival date nears: http://bit.ly/1Ywa2Es
Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival
April 21-23, 2016
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA
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 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 22-24, 2016
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, TX
Enjoy guided birding and nature tours of the refuge, which boasts some of the finest birding habitat in the state.
International Migratory Bird Day Celebration
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. Many wildlife refuges take part in IMBD celebrations.To find an IMBD event near you, see the Bird Day Map. Learn more about International Migratory Bird Day. As the date approaches, check the Refuge System special events calendar for more IMBD event listings.
Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
May 6-9, 2016
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.
Biggest Week in American Birding
May 6-15, 2016
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.
Cache River NatureFest
May 7, 2016
Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, IL
The 15th annual festival highlights the rich diversity of habitats and wildlife in the Cache River Watershed. The festival will include guided birding hikes, canoe tours, live animal demonstrations plus many exhibitors and programs.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
May 12-15, 2016
The state of Alaska’s largest wildlife festival includes field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Chincoteague International Migratory Bird Day Celebration
May 14, 2016
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA, and other locations
Celebrate the spring arrival of thousands of shorebirds at this annual fest, one of many to celebrate the journey of migratory birds. Chincoteague’s annual celebration features workshops, bird walks and guided lighthouse tours.
Wings Over Muscatatuck Bird Festival
May 14, 2016
Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, IN
The all-day festival 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. Visitors are also welcome to take part in a May Day Bird Count, part of a statewide count.
Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival
Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, Ashland, WI
May 19-21, 2016
The 9th annual festival features field trips to Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, guided by U.S. 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 19-22, 2016
Detroit Lakes, MN
Tours of Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge will be part of this year’s 19th annual festival.
Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival
May 19-22, 2016
This three-day festival includes field trips to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, workshops, kids’ activities and a Kenai River float with local birding experts.
South Dakota Birding Festival
May 20-22, 2016
Fort Randall, SD
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.
Down East Spring Birding Festival
May 27-30, 2016
Near Calais, ME
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 8-12, 2016
Field trips to Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge and Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge are highlights of this festival celebrating remote prairie, wetland and meadow birding hot spots.
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
October 1-2, 2016
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, WA
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 16-22, 2016
Enjoy a week of fun-filled and informative programs, bird walks, tours, paddling and family activities at J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL
Wings over Water Festival
October 18-23, 2016
Northeast North Carolina
This multi-day festival features field trips to 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.
Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival
November 2-6, 2016
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.
Ducks fill the sky at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM.
Credit: Marvin deJong
Festival of the Cranes
November 15-20, 2016
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
See wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese by the thousands at this scenic refuge outside of Socorro. Enjoy workshops, tours and other events at one of the most celebrated bird festivals in the country.
Refuge Waterfowl Weekend
November 24-27, 2016
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA,
Enjoy self-guided walks and other special activities to mark the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge. Chincoteague Refuge will open its normally private 7-mile Service Road to the public for more viewing opportunities. Cars can enter the road from noon to 2 daily during that time. The refuge provides habitat for greater snow geese and many other migratory birds.