Great Bird Festivals at National Wildlife Refuges

For a jaw-dropping natural spectacle, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. Of all the wildlife in the United States, birds attract the biggest following. According to the Service’s most recent National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, about 18 million people a year take trips to see wild birds. National wildlife refuges make great bird festival locales because they’re bird magnets; many protect important bird habitat along the country’s major flyways.

To see great masses of birds, look for festivals that coincide with spring or fall migration. Here are some major refuge-centered festivals scheduled for 2014, in the order they will occur:

January 11, 8 a.m.
Festival of the Cranes
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, AL
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes as well as whooping cranes and white pelicans. Enjoy refuge tours, birding workshops, nature walks, live raptors and kids’ activities.

January 22-27
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival
Eastern Florida State College, Titusville, FL
The 17th annual event is billed as the largest birding and wildlife festival in the United States. Festival includes field trips to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

January 22-26
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
Chico, CA
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is one of several field trip destinations for this major West Coast bird festival. The refuge, a Central Valley birding hotspot, boasts a large viewing platform overlooking wetlands teeming with bird life, a photography blind (available by reservation), an auto-tour route and miles of hiking trails.

February 7-9
San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival
Vallejo, CA
The 18th annual festival includes field trips to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Feb 8
Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
Jonathan Dickinson State Park, FL
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound, Lake Wales Ridge and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuges. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and environmental exhibits.

February 13-16
Winter Wings Festival
Klamath Falls, OR
The six national wildlife refuges that make up the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex host the Winter Wings Festival. The festival spotlights the beauty of the basin’s high desert winter. On view: hundreds of eagles and other raptors, plus thousands of ducks, geese and swans.

February 20-23
Whooping Crane Festival
Port Aransas, TX
“America’s Birdiest Small Coastal City” hosts a festival that includes a field trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to see cranes in their winter habitat.

February 27-March 2, 2014
San Diego Bird Festival
The annual festival features field trips to three coastal San Diego National Wildlife Refuges. Birds to see include: Brandt’s cormorant, pied-billed grebe and black-vented shearwater.

March 8, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Swan Day Festival
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, UT
Celebrate Tundra Swan Day with a day of free activities. Take an auto loop tour to view the return of these magnificent migratory birds. Enjoy swan-themed crafts, games and movies inside the Wildlife Education Center.

March 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Eagle Festival
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD
The festival includes several free “eagle prowls” – short bus tours to see active eagles’ nests on the refuge. No pre-registration required.

April 11-13
John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival
Harney County, OR
The festival includes birding trips to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. On one trip – a llama birding trip – your own personal llama (for the duration of the trip) will carry your gear. Registration opens February 3.

April 10-13
Galveston, TX
The festival includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

April 11-13
Bayou Teche Black Bear and Birding Festival
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.

April 12-13
Prairie Chicken Festival
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.”

April 16-22
Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival
Arcata, CA
Week-long birding and nature festival in northern California’s coastal redwoods includes a field trip to Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Festival also includes more than 100 ecotours and workshops, an art show, live birds of prey and a keynote lecture.

April 24-26
Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA
The festival falls during the height of the spring neotropical songbird migration. You might catch a glimpse of the Swainson’s warbler and the Wayne’s warbler, two of North America’s most secretive birds. The festival is part of International Migratory Bird Day, which celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds between their breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America.

April 25-28
Balcones Songbird Festival
Marble Falls, TX
The 14th annual event includes guided tours of the natural habitat of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. See the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black-capped Vireo and many more.

April 25-27
Santee Birding and Nature Festival
Santee National Wildlife Refuge, SC
The festival celebrates the natural beauty of South Carolina by providing wildlife watching and natural history opportunities in the state’s midlands and beyond. The event includes field trips to Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

April 25-27
Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival
Hoquiam, WA
The festival, which coincides with the peak of spring shorebird migration on the Washington Coast, includes field trips to Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and other birding hot spots.

April 25-27
Birding and Crystal Festival
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, OK
The annual festival typically features guided tours, workshops, decoy-carving demonstrations and selenite crystal digging contests.

May 6-15
Biggest Week in American Birding
Northwest Ohio
This major bird festival 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.

May 8-11
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
Homer, AK
The 22nd annual festival features workshops, tours, hikes and field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Birds to see include: the rufous hummingbird, horned puffin and red-necked stint.

May 10
International Migratory Bird Day Celebration
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA, and elsewhere
Thousands of shorebirds, representing more than 20 different species, feed and rest at Chincoteague Refuge during the spring and fall migration. Chincoteague’s 20th annual celebration features workshops, bird walks and guided lighthouse tours. The event is one of many planned to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day, which celebrates the remarkable journeys of some 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in South and Central America. 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.

May Date TBA
Upper Tanana Migratory Bird Festival
Tok, AK
This festival, now in its 13th year, has become a tradition in Tok. Sponsored by the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, the one-day festival often includes a morning bird tour, several kids’ activities, a junior duck stamp art competition, a young naturalist competition and a live bird presentation.

May 15-18
Kenai Birding Festival
Kenai, AK
This three-day festival includes field trips to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, workshops, kids’ activities and a Kenai River birding float with local birding experts.

May 15-19
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
Farmington, UT
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a festival sponsor. Birds to see include the burrowing owl.

May 23-26
Down East Spring Birding Festival
Near Calais, ME
The 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.

June 11-15
Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival
Carrington, ND
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.

October Date TBA
Wings over Water Wildlife Festival
Outer Banks, NC
Pick from scores of talks and trips on birding, paddling, wildlife photography and natural history. Field trips generally go to Pea Island and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuges. All proceeds go to the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, a nonprofit that supports national wildlife refuges in eastern North Carolina.

October Dates TBA
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
The annual festival celebrates the birds that make their home on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state.

October 10-12
Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival
Cape Charles, VA
The festival features field trips to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

November Date TBA
Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
Harlingen, TX
The festival generally includes field trips to Laguna Atascosa, Lower Rio Grande Valley and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges. Featured events include lectures, workshops, birding trips, boating on the Arroyo and other guided trips. Look for great kiskadees, green jays, Altamira orioles and chachalacas.

November 18-23
Festival of the Cranes
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
Thrill to skiesful of sandhill cranes and snow geese at a world-famous birding festival. Enjoy tours, talks, workshops, field trips, dusk fly-ins and dawn fly-outs.

November 27 – 30
Assateague Island Waterfowl Weekend
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia will offer special events and programs to mark the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge.

More bird festivals:

Alaska bird festivals 2014:

List compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.