For a breathtaking nature show, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. And there’s nowhere better than a national wildlife refuge to catch one.
Many of the more than 560 national wildlife refuges are located along major bird migration routes, so when great flocks move in spring and fall, refuge visitors get a front-row seat. Wildlife refuges also provide facilities, bird experts and viewing areas to enhance your experience.
Here is our 2020 calendar of bird festivals at or near refuges. These events are popular, so consider registering ahead if you go. Some festivals charge a registration or activity fee. The National Wildlife Refuge System is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Festival of the Cranes
January 11-12, 2020
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes plus whooping cranes and white pelicans at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Wheeler Refuge boasts Alabama’s largest population of wintering ducks. Enjoy workshops, nature walks, live raptors and kids’ activities.
Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
January 11, 2020
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Florida scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuges. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and environmental exhibits.
Wings of Winter
January 24-26, 2020
The festival includes field trips to Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge. Take part in workshops on wildlife photography, beginning birding and journaling/poetry writing about birding.
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
January 22-26, 2020
See thousands of birds make a spectacular lift-off from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Delevan National Wildlife Refuge. Some years include a field trip to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival
January 22-27, 2020
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a field trip destination for this annual bird festival, billed as one of the country’s largest.
Winter Wildlife Festival
Virginia Beach, VA
January 24-26, 2020
Explore natural areas and hear the sounds of harbor seals. See and photograph migrating birds at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge during three days of guided tours and talks.
Marble Falls, TX
February 1, 2020
The best time and place to see America’s native sparrows is the central Texas Hill Country in winter. The annual Sparrow Fest is hosted by the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Visit Balcones Canyonlands Refuge tracts beyond the trails and learn about the 20-plus native species regularly seen in central Texas.
Winter Wings Festival
Klamath Falls, OR
February 13-16, 2020
The four-day festival offers visitors the chance to visit nearby Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and other Klamath Basin birding hotspots.
San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival
The annual festival 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
Port Aransas, TX
February 20-23, 2020
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. Look for information on the festival’s Facebook page.
San Diego Bird Festival
San Diego, CA
February 26-March 1, 2020
The festival offers field trips to 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.
Merrimack River Eagle Festival
Newburyport and Amesbury, MA
When winter returns to the Merrimack Valley, so do the bald eagles. This annual festival, hosted by Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center and Parker River National Wildlife Refuge features visits to eagle hotspots and family activities at the refuge headquarters.
Monte Vista Crane Festival
Monte Vista, CO
March 6-8, 2020
See thousands of cranes, ducks and geese fly against a backdrop of mountain scenery. Raptors often adorn the power poles and owls are frequently seen with their young. Most events are free. The Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges takes part in the festival’s planning.
Othello Sandhill Crane Festival
March 20-22, 2020
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 community event includes wildlife tours, talks on the area’s natural and cultural heritage, an art contest and children’s activities.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
March 14, 2020
The free festival celebrates birds of prey with live raptor programs, kids’ activities, eagle prowls, Wildlife Drive tours and wildlife exhibits. Food available 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No pets, please. For more information, call 410-228-2677 or visit the refuge website.
Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Festival
Eagle Lake, TX
March 28-29, 2020
See the courtship dance of the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken at this annual festival at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. Van tours take participants to booming grounds to watch the male prairie-chicken’s famous courtship dance. Other events include bird walks and birding van tours.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival
April 16-19, 2020
Wildlife art shows, kids’ nature fairs and music are among the highlights. Visit nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the Pete French Round Barn, built by frontier cattle baron Pete French around 1880.
April 15-21, 2020
Celebrate the marbled godwit at this annual festival along the northern California coast. Field trip destinations include Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The event also includes eco-tours and workshops.
April 16-19, 2020
The festival includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Swamp Birding Festival
April 25, 2020
Balcones Songbird Festival
Lago Vista, TX
April 24-26, 2020
Enjoy guided birding and nature tours of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, which boasts some of the finest birding habitat in the state.
Birding & Blues Festival
Pacific City, OR
April 17-19, 2020
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.
Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival
April 24-26, 2020
Each spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds pause on their way north to rest and feed along the Washington Coast and in the Grays Harbor estuary. Coming from as far south as Argentina, these Arctic-bound shorebirds are among the world’s greatest migrants. The festival includes field trips to Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and other birding hotspots. Note: The festival sometimes takes place in early May.
International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) 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. As the date approaches, check the Refuge System special events calendar for more IMBD event listings.
The Biggest Week in American Birding
May 8-17, 2020
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.
Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
Marsh Haven Nature Center, WI
May 7-11, 2020
Experience Horicon Marsh, one of America’s great natural treasures. One highlight: a dusk-into-dark tour of critters that sing, call and dance as the sun sets on Horicon Marsh. The tour is led by staff from Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
May 7-10, 2020
For 25 years, the festival has offered great birding, education and workshops, and children’s activities to thousands of birders of all ages and all skill levels. The festival includes field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Wings Over Muscatatuck Bird Festival
May 8-10, 2020
The festival at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge includes guided bird van tours, bird and nature walks, kids’ activities, birdhouse building and a bird-calling contest.
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
May 14-17, 2020
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s field trip destinations.
Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival
May 14-16, 2020
The annual festival offers three days of birding and nature activities on the south shore of Lake Superior at the peak of spring migration. Field trips include a trip to Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, guided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff. Also offered: Birding by bicycle, kayaking trips, Apostle Islands cruises and a loon pontoon.
Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds
Detroit Lakes, MN
May 14-16, 2020
Tours of Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge are part of this annual festival.
Washington Islands Birding Festival
Washington Island, WI
May 15-17, 2020
The festival provides guided birding opportunities on three Lake Michigan islands, including Plum Island, part of Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Join U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff as they band passerine birds and collect scientific data. Festival-goers see more than 140 bird species each year.
Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival
The festival includes field trips to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, workshops, kids’ activities and a Kenai River float with local birding experts.
Tualatin River Bird Festival
The Friends of the Refuge in partnership with Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge pack their annual free festival with guided bird walks, kids’ activities and Conestoga-style wagon rides around the refuge.
Down East Spring Birding Festival
May 23-25, 2020
The annual festival includes guided hikes, boat tours and expert presentations. It also features field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, an event sponsor.
Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival
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.
Seward Seabird Festival
June 6-7, 2020
Education, science, and art activities celebrate the arrival of Alaska's seabirds. Boat tours will go to the Chiswell Islands — part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge — to view seabirds. The festival is co-sponsored by the Alaska Maritime Refuge, Alaska Sealife Center and Kenai Fjords National Park.
Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Fest
Enjoy a social-media based festival that connects Americans with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through its charismatic ambassadors – the birds that migrate there each summer from backyards all over the world.
Wings Over Willapa Festival
Long Beach, WA
September 24-27, 2020
Guided tours, artist workshops, presentations and fun-filled events connect people with birds, nature and art in celebration of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Field trips go to the Leadbetter Point, Long Island and other refuge units as well as Cape Disappointment State Park, Willapa Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
John L. Borom Alabama Coastal BirdFest
Spanish Fort, AL
This annual event on the Alabama Gulf Coast includes guided birding tours at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
October 3, 2020
Celebrate fall and local wildlife with Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The annual festival along the lower Columbia River offers Audubon bird shows, live music, hikes, 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 18, 2020
Enjoy a week of fun-filled and informative programs, bird walks, tours, paddling and family activities at J. N. “Ding’’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Wings over Water Festival
October 20-25, 2020
The festival features more than 90 trips and programs involving birding, paddling, photography, art and natural history. Activities take place in six northeastern North Carolina counties and six national wildlife refuges.
Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival
November 11-15, 2020
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
Las Vegas, NM
Take a 4.5-mile drive through the back fields and past ponds at Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge to observe migrating waterfowl — sandhill cranes, ducks of all variety, snow geese, coots, grebes, mergansers and bald eagles looking for their next meal. Interpretive programs help visitors identify waterfowl.
Festival of the Cranes
November 18-21, 2020
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese at spectacular Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just outside the city of Socorro, about an hour’s drive from Albuquerque. This celebrated wildlife festival, regarded as one of the best in North America, offers more than 100 workshops, tours and events.
Central Valley Birding Symposium
California’s Great Central Valley, located along the Pacific Flyway, is uniquely situated for excellent birding. This annual event features well-known speakers, multiple field trips and art displays. Field trips have visited the Colusa, Merced, San Luis and San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuges, in addition to other wildlife areas, parks, and birding locales.
Forest City, MO
December 5-6, 2020
Celebrate the annual Eagle Days at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. Events include live eagle shows, staffed spotting scope stations, guided bus tours, exhibits, activities and videos. All events are free. See eagles, ducks, geese, and trumpeter swans on the refuge auto tour.
Swan Days Festival
This annual event celebrates the return of the Alaskan tundra swan to Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge as well as the historic heritage of the Mattamuskeet Lodge. Learn about the history of Lake Mattamuskeet and the Native Americans of the area. Tram tours require reservations: 252-926-4021.
Wings Over Water Encore
WOW Encore is great 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.