For a jaw-dropping nature spectacle, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. Some of the nation’s most celebrated bird festivals are at or near national wildlife refuges. And no, you don’t have to be a birder to enjoy one.
National wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds. Scores of refuges are located along major bird migration routes, so when the birds move en masse in spring and fall, visitors get an eyeful.
Many festivals celebrate the seasonal arrivals of large birds, such as sandhill cranes, notable for their great wingspans, noisy calls and striking mating dances. Other festivals focus on bald eagles, tundra swans, snow geese and prairie chickens.
So what better place than a national wildlife refuge to find some of the nation’s best birding and outstanding birding festivals? The National Wildlife Refuge System is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The festivals are hugely popular so advance registration is suggested. Some festivals charge a registration or activity fee. Check out our calendar of annual bird festivals on or near national wildlife refuges. Then try one. Refuges are family-friendly, so bring your whole crew.
Winter Wings Bird 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, Crater Lake National Park and other Klamath Basin birding hotspots.
Whooping Crane Festival
Port Aransas, TX
This festival is always a fan favorite! 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. Information will be posted on the festival’s Facebook page.
Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Florida scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and nature exhibits. Stay tuned to the festival’sFacebook page.
San Diego Bird Festival
February 27- March 3
Marina Village Conference Center
San Diego, CA
With the slogan, “Where Every Day is a Big Day,” the festival offers some 40 field trips, including four 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.
Family Eagle Watching Day
Learn about bald eagles at this free event at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. There will be kids’ crafts and activities. Take a self-paced auto birding/eagle tour along Gilbert Lake. Staff will lead auto eagle tours of Swan Lake and Calhoun Wetlands. Experienced eagle watchers will be set up with viewing scopes at various locations at the wildlife refuge.
Monte Vista Crane Festival
Monte Vista, CO
See thousands of cranes, ducks and geese flying against a backdrop of mountain scenery. Raptors often adorn the power poles and owls are frequently seen with their young. All events are free except the photography workshop. The 36th annual festival includes a tour to Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges participates in the festival’s planning.
Othello Sandhill Crane Festival
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, lectures on the area’s natural and cultural heritage, an art contest and children’s activities. Information will be posted on the festival’s Facebook page.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival
Wildlife art shows, kids’ nature fairs including a chance to learn about wild birds, music and book signings are among the highlights. This is a chance to visit the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the Pete French Round Barn, built by frontier cattle baron Pete French around 1880.
The 17th annual festival includes field trips to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, McFadden National Wildlife Refuge and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.
Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken Festival
Eagle Lake, TX
See the courtship dance of the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken in coastal prairie habitat at this annual celebration at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. Early morning van tours will take participants up to one of the booming grounds to watch the male prairie-chicken’s famous courtship dance. Other events include wildflower and native plant guided tours, bird walks and birding van tours with experienced birders, refuge tours and a booth sponsored by the Friends of Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge.
Arcata, CACelebrate the marbled godwit at the 24th annual festival! Field trip destinations for this festival along the northern California coast include Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The event also includes scores of eco-tours and workshops, an art show and live birds of prey.
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. Stay tuned to the festival’s Facebook page.
World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is the only international education program that highlights and 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, WMBD explores a different aspect of migratory birds and their conservation. This year, many events in North America will take place on May 11 (and on the birds’ wintering grounds on October 12). Many wildlife refuges take part in WMBD celebrations. Check the Refuge System special events calendar for event listings.
Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival
Each spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to rest and feed along the Washington Coast and in the Grays Harbor estuary during their migration northward. Coming from as far south as Argentina, these Arctic-bound shorebirds are among the world’s greatest migrants. Field trips to birding hotspots, lectures, vendors, exhibitors and great shorebird viewing take place at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and in other parts of the county.
The Biggest Week in American Birding
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.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
For 27 years running, the festival has offered great birds, excellent guiding, educational seminars and workshops, and children’s activities to thousands of birders of all ages and all skill levels. With over 100,000 shorebirds of 25 different species migrating through in early May, this event celebrates the return of spring and migrating birds. The festival includes field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
Marsh Haven Nature Center, WI
Experience Horicon Marsh, one of America’s great natural treasures at the 22nd annual festival. One highlight: dusk-into-dark tour of critters that sing, call and dance as the sun sets and night falls on Horicon Marsh, led by staff from Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.
Wings Over Muscatatuck Bird Festival
The 21st annual festival celebrates birds and their natural environment. Enjoy guided bird tours, bird and nature walks, live birds of prey programs, birdhouse building and kids activities at the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. You might even see a bald eagle. Enjoy all therefuge has to offer in the beauty of the spring.
Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds
Detroit Lakes, MN
Tours of Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge will be part of this year’s 22nd annual festival. More than 275 species of birds are found in this birders’ paradise.
Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival
The 13th annual festival offers three days of birding and nature activities on Wisconsin’s south shore of Lake Superior at the peak of spring migration. Among the 100-plus field trips, Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, guided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff. Birding by bicycle, kayaking trips, Apostle Islands cruises, loon pontoon, live bats and birds, mammal tracking, geocaching and more. Registration opens in March.
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
This festival highlights birds and other natural wonders around the Great Salt Lake in northern Utah. Take part in field trips, workshops and activities for families, youth and scouts. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s field trip destinations.
Tualatin River Bird Festival
The Friends of the Refuge in partnership with Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge have created a one-day wonder for the 23rd annual free festival, including early morning guided bird walks, live bird show, plenty of activities for kids and Conestoga-style wagon rides around the refuge.
Down East Spring Birding Festival
Cobscook Community Learning Center
The 17th annual festival includes guided hikes, boat tours and expert presentations. It also features field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, one of the event sponsors.
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.
Concert for the Birds
Join the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge for this annual concert in celebration of wildlife in partnership with the Friends of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. There are lots of activities for the whole family, including music, crafts, games, food and fun. Local musicians are invited to perform for the public as they enjoy the great outdoors.
John L. Borom Alabama Coastal BirdFest
Spanish Fort, AL
The 16th annual event on the Alabama Gulf Coast offers guided trips, speakers, dinners and free, family friendly activities. Register for prime birding tours at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
Join Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate the coming of fall and the wildlife that make the refuge their home. The annual festival, along the lower Columbia River, offers Audubon bird shows, live music, 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.
Wings over Water Festival
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.
Ding Darling Days
Enjoy the 31st annual event with fun-filled and informative programs, bird walks, tours, paddling and family activities at J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Fall Flight Festival
November 3, 10, 17 and 24
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 to help visitors identify waterfowl.
Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival
The 26th annual festival features over 100 field trips led by seasoned guides, bird-related vendors, workshops, seminars, children’s activities and opportunities to mingle and enjoy the local cuisine and culture. 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.
Festival of the Cranes
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese at the spectacular Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just outside of 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.
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.
Forest City, MO
Celebrate the 41st annual Eagles Days at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge! Learn all about the national bird on guided bus tour or drive the auto tour yourself. See eagles, ducks and trumpeter swans. Live eagle show. Kids can make birdseed feeder. Stay tuned to the refuge’sFacebook page.
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. Enjoy nature exhibits, educational activities, food vendors, craftspeople and local artists. Tram tours require reservations: 252-926-4021. Information will be posted on the festival’sFacebook page.