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Harney County Migratory Bird Festival

Snow and Ross' Geese

Harney County Migratory Bird Festival

The Harney County Migratory Bird Festival is held annually in April in Harney County. It is an amazing weekend witnessing the spectacular spring migration in the Harney Basin and to view thousands of migratory birds as they rest and feed in the open spaces of Oregon's high desert. Over 340 species of birds use Malheur National Wildlife Refuge throughout each year, making Harney Basin a bird watcher's paradise.

The Harney County Migratory Bird Festival was first held in 1981 ​to celebrate the large annual migration of birds passing through Harney Basin on the Pacific Flyway. Harney Basin is one of the three most important areas left in the western United States for spring migratory birds stopping on their way north.

​Today, we continue to celebrate the migratory birds' return each year with guided tours led by experts, workshops, and fun activities for both youth and adults. 

Festival's Past, Present and Future

The Festival began in 1981 as a Kiwanis sponsored event. With the abundance of birds using the Harney Basin in the spring, Joe Hardwick convinced members of the Kiwanis to host a bird festival that would draw visitors from outside of the Harney Basin. 

During the first years of the festival the event was held at the Grange Hall on the corner of Highway 205 and Highway 78. This all volunteer event was named in honor of John Scharff after several years. John Scharff was the first on-site manager of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 1935.

In the early 1990s the bird festival began shifting its focus from self-guided tours to organized tours led by area bird experts. It was at this time that the Refuge, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service took on a more active role in the festival. Organization of the festival was still directed by volunteers, but the tours were led by agency personnel in agency vehicles.

As the festival outgrew the capacity of the dedicated group of volunteer organizers, the Bird Festival Committee began exploring other options for oversight. The festival has since transitioned to a multi-partner led event with the help of the Harney County Chamber of Commerce

A portion of the profits from the bird festival is available locally as grants for wildlife interpretation, educational projects and other community projects associated with the festival.