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Information iconSandhill cranes fly in to roost at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, host of the annual Festival of the Cranes in November. (Photo: Marvin De Jong)

Bird Festival Planner

For a jaw-dropping nature spectacle, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. And there’s nowhere better than a national wildlife refuge to catch one. 

More than a third of the 560-plus national wildlife refuges were established to provide habitat for migratory birds. Scores of refuges are located along major bird migration routes, so when great flocks move north or south with the seasons, visitors get a front-row seat. No experience is needed.

“National wildlife refuges are wonderful places for birding,” says visitor services specialist Mike Carlo. “We work hard to help people enjoy connecting with nature.”

Here is a calendar of annual bird festivals at or near refuges. These events are popular, so register 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.

monte vista crane fest2, usfws
The Monte Vista Crane Fest in Colorado, held every March, coincides with the spring arrival of thousands of sandhill cranes and other birds. (Photo: USFWS)


Sparrow Fest
Marble Falls, TX
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
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.

Florida Scrub-Jay Festival 
Site rotates: Titusville, Deltona, Osprey or Tequesta, FL
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.

San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival
Vallejo, CA
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
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
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 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
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
Othello, WA

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.
Attwaters prairie chicken, George Lavendowski
The annual Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Festival, held in April in Eagle Lake, Texas, gives event-goers a chance to see the colorful courtship dance of this endangered bird at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: George Lavendowski)


Harney County Migratory Bird Festival 
Burns, OR
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.

Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Festival 
Eagle Lake, TX
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. The festival is generally held the second weekend in April.

Godwit Days
Arcata, CA
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.

Galveston, TX
The festival includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Balcones Songbird Festival
Lago Vista, TX
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
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
Hoquiam, WA

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.
 detroit lakes bird fest, minn, judd brink
Visitors bundle up for a chance to see flocks of birds at the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds in Minnesota, held in May. (Photo: Judd Brink)


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
Northwest Ohio
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
Horicon, WI
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
Homer, AK
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
Seymour, IN
The festival at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge includes guided bird van tours, bird and nature walks, children’s activities, birdhouse building and programs with live birds of prey. The festival is held the second Saturday in May.

Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
Farmington, UT
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s field trip destinations.

Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival
Ashland, WI
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
Tours of Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge are part of this annual festival.

Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival
Kenai, AK
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
Trescott, ME
The annual festival includes guided hikes, boat tours and expert presentations. It also features field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, an event sponsor.

 j n ding darling nwr, george gentry, usfws
“Ding” Darling Days, held in October, features a host of colorful sights and family activities at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. (Photo: George Gentry/USFWS)


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.


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
Ridgefield, WA
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
Sanibel, FL
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
Manteo, NC
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.

sandhill cranes, Bosque Festival of  the Cranes by Marvin De Jong
Sandhill cranes fly out at dawn at the annual Festival of the Cranes, held in November at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. (Photo: Marvin De Jong)


Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival
Harlingen, TX
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
Socorro, NM

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. Enjoy workshops, tours, great photographic opportunities and other events at one of the most celebrated birding festivals in the country.
bald eagle, bruce hallman, usfws
Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri celebrates our national symbol at its annual Eagle Days festival in December. (Photo: Bruce Hallman/USFWS)


Eagle Days
Forest City, MO
Celebrate the annual Eagles Days at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. Learn all about the national bird on a guided bus tour or drive the auto tour yourself. See eagles, ducks and trumpeter swans.

Swan Days Festival
Swanquarter, NC
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
Manteo, NC
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.

DuckFlight, Tennessee nwr , Clayton Ferrell, usfws
Field trips to Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge are among highlights of the annual Wings of Winter Festival in Tennessee, held in January. (Photo: Clayton Ferrell/USFWS)


Festival of the Cranes
Decatur, AL
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.

Wings of Winter
Buchanan, TN
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 
Chico, CA
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
Titusville, FL
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
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.

Compiled by Susan   | February 6, 2019
Information iconTrumpeter swans fly in formation over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)