National Wildlife Refuge System

Best Bird Fests 2011-2012

Snow geese at Bosque del Apache Refuge, NM
Snow geese at Bosque del Apache Refuge, NM
Credit: Lee Karney

Ever see a vast field of birds erupt into flight, blanketing the sky and filling the air with cries?  What are you waiting for? For a cheap natural thrill, visit a bird festival. National wildlife refuges make stellar festival sites — or field trip destinations — because many protect bird habitat along major fly routes. For the best show, choose from a flock of festivals that coincide with spring or fall migration.

Wichita Mountains Eagle Watch   
January 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30, 2012 and
February 5, 6, 12, 13, 2012, 1:30 p.m. — Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, OK
An interpretive program at refuge headquarters is followed by a bus tour of the refuge’s special use area to search for bald and golden eagles. $5 fee. Children must be 8 or older. Wheelchair accommodations by request. Tours last about two and a half hours and include a short walk. Reservations: 580-429-2151. Dress warmly and bring binoculars if possible.

Eagle Watch
Every Saturday, January 21 through March 3, 2012 — Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, OK  
Guided field trips begin with an orientation at the refuge office at 9 a.m. Then groups take a bus to viewing sites to see nests through scopes.

Spacecoast Birding and Wildlife Festival
January 25 – 30, 2012 — Titusville, FL
The 15th annual event is the largest birding and wildlife festival in the United States, say organizers. Festival includes field trips to Merritt Island and St. Johns National Wildlife Refuges.

January 28, 2012 — Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, TX
Expect to see more than 15 species of sparrows in one day. This sparrow workshop includes classroom sessions and field trips on the refuge.

Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
February 4, 2012   — Oscar Scherer State Park, Osprey, FL
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to Florida. Scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound, Lake Wales Ridge and Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuges. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and environmental exhibits.

San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival        
February 10 – 12, 2012   — Mare Island, CA  
The 16th annual festival includes field trips to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Bald Eagle Day
February 11, 2012. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, UT
Family festivities here are among eagle celebrations taking place this day around the state. The refuge will offer eagle-viewing guides, maps to other eagle locations and eagle education.

Klamath Falls Winter Wings Festival        
February 17 – 19, 2012 — Klamath Basin, OR and CA   
The 32nd annual festival celebrates the waterfowl-rich Klamath Basin, a major migratory stop on the Pacific Flyway. More than 80 percent of birds that use the flyway stop over in the Klamath Basin. The basin’s six national wildlife refuges attract a wide variety of waterfowl and raptors, many in astounding numbers. Popular festival events include an “owl prowl” at Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and field trips to other Klamath Basin refuges.

San Diego Bird Festival
March 1– 4, 2012 — San Diego, CA.
This annual festival features field trips to three coastal San Diego National Wildlife Refuges. Birds to see include: Brandt’s cormorant, pied-billed grebe, black-vented shearwater.

Tundra Swan Day
March 10, 2012, sunrise to sunset —Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, UT
See hundreds of migratory tundra swans at this free event, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Watch swans from your car as you drive along the refuge’s auto tour route. Before you go, pick up a map from the refuge’s Wildlife Education Center, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Brigham City.

Eagle Festival  
March 10, 2012, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD
The refuge’s 12th annual Eagle Festival features live raptor programs, kids’ activities, a photography workshop, a guided bird walk, exhibits and the popular Eagle Prowls. Free events for the whole family. 

Prairie Chicken Festival  
April 14 – 15, 2012, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, TX
Enjoy tours of the refuge, native plants and Attwater prairie chickens on their booming grounds.

Bayou Teche Black Bear and Birding Festival
April 20 – 22, 2012 — Franklin, Louisiana
The annual festival celebrates species found in North America’s largest river swamp, such as white pelicans and roseate spoonbills. Guided boat tours and paddling trips into Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge are featured attractions, along with a photo show, music and fireworks.

Santee Birding and Nature Festival
April 27 – 29, 2012  — Santee National Wildlife Refuge, SC
Join birders and naturalists at one of the state’s only nature festivals. Take field trips throughout the midlands of South Carolina. Learn about wonderful natural places and their inhabitants.

Balcones Songbird Festival
April 27-30, 2012 — Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, TX
Enjoy refuge tours and workshops.

Birding and Cystal Festival
April 27 – 29, 2012 — Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, OK
The annual festival typically features guided tours, workshops, decoy-carving demonstrations and selenite crystal digging contests.

Cache River Birding Blitz
April 28, 2012—Southern Illinois
Teams compete to see which can identify the most species of birds in 24 hours. Favorite birding spots include Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

South Bay Bird Fest  
April 2012, Dates TBA — Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Alviso, CA 
This family-friendly annual festival features guided walks, games and live bird demonstrations.

Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival
May 4 – 6, 2012 — Grays Harbor, WA
The festival coincides with the peak of spring shorebird migration on the Washington coast. Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is a festival sponsor.

The Biggest Week in American Birding
May 4 – 13, 2012 — Northwest Ohio
This major bird festival takes place at the peak of spring warbler migration in the Lake Erie Marsh region of the state. The festival features field trips to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
May 10 – 13, 2012 Homer, AK
The festival features workshops, tours, hikes and field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Birds to see include: Rufous hummingbird, horned puffin, red-necked stint.

Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
May 11 – 14, 2012  — Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, WI
Enjoy guided birding hikes, bus and boat tours, bird banding demonstrations and more.

Spring Wings Bird Festival  
May 12 – 13, 2012 —Fallon, NV
The annual festival, which celebrates shorebird and waterfowl migration through the Lahontan Valley Field, includes field trips to Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Wings over Muscatatuck Bird Festival 
May 12, 2012 — Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, IN
The festival features guided bird tours of the refuge, bird walks, live birds of prey programs, kids’ birding activities and many wildlife-related interpretive programs.

Klamath Falls International Migratory Bird Festival
May 12, 2012 — Klamath Falls, OR   
The festival features field trips to Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges.  
Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival    
May 10 – 12— Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA
Enjoy guided bird walks, owl prowls, refuge bus tours, photography and birding workshops.  Free event registration begins mid-March. To register, call 757-986-3705.

Cache River Nature Fest.
May 12, 2012, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Henry N. Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center, IL
Annual festival celebrates the kaleidoscope of birds found in the Cache, including barn owls, snowy egrets, American avocets and prairie warblers. Festival includes field trips to
Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

International Migratory Bird Day  
May 12, 2012 
International Migratory Bird Day, observed on or about the second Saturday in May, calls attention to the remarkable journeys of some 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in South and Central America. Many refuges will host public events. 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.

Kenai Birding Festival
May 17 – 20, 2012 — Kenai Peninsula, AK
This three-day festival features thousands of birds, children’s activities, discussions and field trips to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. All ages and levels of experience welcome.

Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds
May 17 – 20, 2012 — Detroit Lakes, MN
This birding festival features field trips to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.

Minnesota Festival of Birds
May 17 – 20, 2012 — Detroit Lakes, MN
Fields trips to Glacial Ridge and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuges are especially popular.

Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
May 17 – 21, 2012— Farmington, UT
This birding festival features field trips to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a festival sponsor. Birds to see include: burrowing owl.

Tualatin River Bird Festival
May 18 – 20, 2012 — Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, OR
Enjoy nature photography workshops, a bike ride, river paddle trips, native basketry, nature journaling workshops, art and music

Down East Spring Birding Festival 
May 25 – 28, 2012 — Near Calais, ME
The annual festival includes guided hikes, boat tours and expert presentations. It features field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, one of the event sponsors.

Cape MayGration
May 2012, Dates TBA — Cape May, NJ
The former weekend festival, now a month-long event, features pelagic boat trips, photo expeditions, bird banding demonstrations and workshops. Many come to see migratory red knots feed on their eggs of horseshoe crabs that come ashore to spawn in spring. The festival traditionally features field trips to Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Burke County Birding Festival    
June 2012, Dates TBA — Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, ND
Free birding festival focuses on grassland species, especially sparrows. Includes youth activities and prairie wildflower walk.

Cape May Autumn Birding Festival
October 26-28, 2012 — Cape May, NJ
The annual birding festival is a Mid-Atlantic favorite that coincides with the migration of shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors and warblers. The festival features field trips to Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Last updated: January 17, 2012