Bird festivals are back! After a year of widespread cancellations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many festivals are set to go again in 2021. To ensure visitor safety, some have been re-imagined as virtual events, some are occurring live on site, and others are a mix of both.
No matter the format, bird festivals are great nature shows. And since national wildlife refuges are such birdy places, it’s fitting that they play a major role.
Many of the more than 560 national wildlife refuges are located along major bird migration routes. National wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also have bird experts and wildlife viewing areas.
Here is our 2021 calendar of bird festivals at or near refuges. In-person events fill up fast, especially with attendance limits, so consider registering ahead if you go. Be safe, wear a mask and avoid crowding. Some festivals charge a registration or activity fee.
April 15-18, 2021
The on-site festival includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival
April 22-25, 2021
This year’s festival is all virtual. Online events include looks at local species such as great gray owls and golden eagles, tips on where to bird in Harney County, and a presentation on how national wildlife refuges, including nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, help bird migration.
Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival
April 24-30, 2021
This year’s festival is all virtual and will feature an online video tour. 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 some of the world’s longest-distance travelers. Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and other birding hotspots traditionally have a role in the festival.
Spring into Nature
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, NY
May 1, 2021
A pared-down pandemic version of the refuge’s annual spring festival features activities including sunflower seed feeder construction and bird feather ID. You must register to participate. Space is limited.
The Biggest Week in American Birding
May 6-10, 2021
This year’s festival is all virtual. Organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the festival is timed to coincide with the peak of spring bird migration in the state’s Lake Erie marsh region. The festival normally features field trips to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
May 6-9, 2021
This year’s festival will be a hybrid, featuring virtual and on-site activities. These include self-guided trail walks and virtual tours and lessons, some led by staff at Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
Marsh Haven Nature Center, WI
May 7-9, 2021
The festival is on; its format is still uncertain. Horicon Marsh is one of America’s great natural treasures. One highlight in past years: a dusk-to-dark tour of critters that sing, call and dance as the sun sets. The tour is led by staff from Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.
World Migratory Bird Day
May 8, 2021 (celebrated all month long)
The annual event 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. Many wildlife refuges take part in the celebrations. This year’s theme is: “Sing, Fly, Soar —Like a Bird.”
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
May 13-16, 2021
The festival will be on site, but field trips will have smaller attendee capacities and will be self-guided to protect the safety of attendees, volunteers and partners. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s field trip destinations. Event headquarters is at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on the edge of the Great Salt Lake.
Tualatin River Bird Festival
May 14-15, 2021
This year’s festival is all virtual. Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and its Friends group plan the annual free festival. Check back for details.
Festival of the Birds
Detroit Lakes, MN
May 20-22, 2021
This year’s festival will feature a mix of virtual and on-site activities, including self-guided tours. In past years, tours of Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge have been part of the festival.
Down East Spring Birding Festival
May 28-31, 2021
This year’s festival will be a hybrid of virtual and on-site events. The latter will include a small number of in-person guided trips to ensure appropriate social distancing. Indoor events are postponed until 2022. In past years, the festival has featured field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, an event sponsor.
Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Fest
2021 date TBD
More than 200 bird species have been recorded at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Birds that breed there have ranges that reach five other continents and all 50 states. This virtual festival connects people across the globe to this remote yet iconic landscape.
Wings Over Willapa Festival
Long Beach, WA
September 24-26, 2021
This year's festival will be an in-person event, including 30 field trips, presentations and artist workshops to celebrate birds and Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. A Nature Play Day will have activities for the whole family. Field trips will go to Leadbetter Point, Long Island and other refuge units as well as Cape Disappointment State Park, Willapa Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Registration opens August 1.
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
October 1-2, 2021
This year’s festival will be largely virtual. Celebrate fall and local wildlife with Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The annual festival highlights the refuge, nature and the region’s cultural history. In past years, events have included bird shows, music, hikes, family arts and crafts, and educational activities.
John L. Borom Alabama Coastal BirdFest
Spanish Fort, AL
October 6-9, 2021
This annual Gulf Coast event includes guided birding tours at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi.
“Ding” Darling Day
October 10, 2021
Enjoy fun-filled and informative programs at J. N. “Ding’’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Events in past years have included bird walks, tours, paddling and family activities.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
November 18-20, 2021
Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese winter at Bosque del Apache Refuge, about an hour’s drive south from Albuquerque. While the Festival of the Cranes remains on hold in 2021 because of the pandemic, Crane Fiesta is filling the gap with a mix of virtual events and live webinars. Enjoy some of your festival favorites: the Expo Tent, photography and birding webinars, and even the Wildlife Zone.
Forest City, MO
Celebrate the annual Eagle Days at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. In past years, events have included live eagle shows, exhibits and staffed spotting scope stations. All events are free. See eagles, ducks, geese, and trumpeter swans on the refuge auto tour.