A birding festival can be an amazing event filled with days of feathered fun. Whether you are considering attending your very first organized festival or you are a regular guest at festivals all over the country, each event can be a wonderful chance to enjoy all different types of birds and birding.
See also: A Beginner’s Guide to Birding
Why Attend a Birding Festival?
Birds don’t pay attention to festival dates. If they can be spotted at field trip locations and local hotspots during a festival, they are also going to be seen in the days leading up to or immediately after the festival. So why bother attending the event when it may be more crowded, and travel arrangements and fees could be more expensive? A festival is about far more than just the birds, and a birding festival gives attendees a great opportunity to:
Enjoy the best timing of local birding
Festivals are timed to take advantage of the best local birding, whether that is the peak of seasonal migration, probable winter irruptions or high nesting populations. Especially if the area is new to you, a festival’s timing can be a great way to learn when the birding is at its finest.
Meet others who share your love of birding
If you enjoy socializing and sharing great birds with other enthusiastic birders, you won’t find any more enthusiastic option than attending a festival. These events are ideal for meeting birders of all experience levels and from many different areas.
Learn more about birds and birding
Many birding festivals include workshops and lectures in the schedule of activities, giving attendees a prime opportunity to sharpen their birding skills with the help of recognized experts.
Discover local hotspots to revisit
If you are attending a local festival, you have the unique opportunity to learn great birding hotspots that you can revisit all year long. It might be an out-of-the-way park, an unknown pond or some other hidey-hole that gives you the very best birding.
Enjoy dedicated birding in a convenient way
A birding festival can be an easy way to really enjoy birding without the hassle of arranging guides, planning routes or struggling with transportation. All of that is taken care of on festival field trips, so you can sit back and simply enjoy every bird you see.
Take advantage of unique birding experiences
Birding festivals often offer some unique options that birders wouldn’t otherwise experience, such as hearing popular keynote speakers, visiting areas that are normally closed to the public, or joining in banding or other research projects for an inside look at ornithology.
Shop for all things bird-related
Most festivals offer a dedicated marketplace or vendor area featuring bird feeders and birdhouses, recently published books, the newest optics, hand-crafted bird-themed gifts, native plants, and all sorts of other fun souvenirs and accessories.
10 Things to Expect at a Birding Festival
Every birding festival is different and each has its own flair. Some are dedicated to one specific target bird, while others may focus on all the avian richness of the area. While the exact itinerary will vary for each festival, they often have many of the same activities, including:
1. Field Trips
The heart and soul of any birding festival, field trips can range from just an hour or two to full-day excursions to multiple habitats. Some festivals will even offer specialty trips, such as pelagic tours or birding by horseback, kayak or bikes. Trips may also be specialized for certain birds, such as owling tours or visiting gardens to see hummingbirds.
2. Expert Speakers
Keynote speakers are a highlight of any festival. Many birders enjoy meeting the celebrities of birding circles – field guide authors, renowned bird artists, birders with extraordinary life lists – but there are other speakers as well. Bird rehabilitators, native gardening horticulturalists, falconers and other experts often offer lectures and presentations at festivals.
3. Unique Opportunities
Birding festivals often try to offer at least one distinctive, unique option for attendees. It might be a chance to participate in bird banding or nest monitoring efforts, a screening of a new bird or nature film, or a falconry demonstration. It is sure to be a memorable part of the event.
More interactive than a lecture, a workshop might offer detailed instruction to help attendees sharpen their birding by ear skills, learn to draw birds, practice the best birding photography, try out new optics or learn digiscoping. Workshops might also offer opportunities to build birdhouses or feeders that attendees can then take home.
Some birding festivals add fun games such as a bird mimicry contest or trivia competitions. Bird tattoo showcases, costume contests or scavenger hunts can all be on the activity schedule, and there may be prizes for winning teams or competitors.
A marketplace area is always a popular feature of a birding festival and will offer festival-related merchandise such as shirts, hats and tote bags. Local craftsmen and artisans may also be selling items, and birding retailers will be offering feeders, birdhouses and all sorts of bird-related accessories. Publishers, bird tour operators and other vendors may also be present.
7. Youth Events
Birding festivals can be fun for the whole family when different youth events are part of the festivities. Beginning birding workshops or tours geared toward the youngest birders are fun options. Other activities such as dissecting owl pellets, storytelling, puppet shows, face painting and live avian ambassadors are also popular.
8. Art Contests
Many birding festivals showcase the nature-oriented artwork of local artists through art shows. Photography, drawing, painting or other mediums may be part of the show. There may be entry levels available for students, amateurs and professionals.
With so many like-minded birding enthusiasts gathered together, a festival can be a great time for fundraising for bird conservation causes. A local wildlife hospital, non-profit refuge, youth nature program or other causes may all be represented through fundraising efforts such as auctions, bird-a-thons or calls for donations.
An exhibit hall featuring posters and displays from local conservation groups, taxidermy artists and similar informational outlets can be part of a birding festival’s setup. This gives visitors the chance to learn more about the area and its birds even if they can’t manage the time to attend a lecture or workshop.
Making the Most of a Birding Festival
With so much available and dozens of festivals to choose from every year, it can be difficult to not be overwhelmed when you visit a birding festival. With a small bit of planning and preparation, however, it can be easy to make the most of any – and every – festival you attend.
- Decide what you want from a birding festival. Do you want to discover local hotspots? Choose a local or regional event. Are you eager to see one specific bird? Find a festival with that bird as its spotlight species. Do you want to see as many new species as possible? Choose a festival in an area you have never been birding before.
- Register for the festival as soon as possible so you get the best choice of available field trips. The most popular tours can fill up quickly and you don’t want to miss your spot. Booking travel arrangements and hotel reservation early can also help you find the best deals.
- Spread your wings and try something different. It might be a tour you wouldn’t normally consider, a workshop you have no experience with, or joining in a contest or game even if you’re normally shy. You will meet new friends and learn even more about birds and birding, enriching your festival experience.
Where to Attend a Birding Festival
If you’re ready to find the right bird festival for you, here are a few to get you started on your search:
Midwestern Great Lakes Region
If you live in Michigan, or have it on your travel bucket list, the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens Birding Festival is worth the visit. This year’s festival will take place from September 19 to September 21. This year’s attendees will learn from conservationists, researchers, photographers, naturalists, and environmental educators. The festival plans to offer more than thirty sessions on a variety of topics such as raptor identification and birding by ear. The highlight of the festival will be Keynote Speaker David Allen Sibley, who will present The Art of Identification. Sibley is the author and illustrator of the famed bestselling guides to birds, The Sibley Guide to Birds.
Monterey Bay, California
Said to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the Monterey Bay Birding Festival is the place to be during fall migration. This festival features field trips, workshops, family activities, and two keynote speakers. Held from September 20 to September 22, this year’s keynote speaker will include John Muir Laws. Muir will present Thinking Like a Naturalist: Reclaiming the Art of Natural History. Muir is the author of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds as well as the Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling.
St. Simons Island, Georgia
For birdwatchers in the northeast, the Fall Birding Days festival on St. Simons Island takes place from September 27 to October 4th. It offers a combination retreat and a birdwatching extravaganza. Ornithologists team up with staff naturalists on excursions to see a plethora of species native to this area. With a choice of three, four, and seven-day packages, you can find the package that fits your desires. Because this is a very popular festival that sells out early, you should book your stay as soon as possible.
Deep in the heart of Texas, Gillespie County offers birdwatchers a three-day bird festival in the Edwards Plateau region called Birding in the Hills. The festival is held on beautiful private ranches in a variety of habitats. The photography opportunities alone are worth the visit. This festival is perfect for beginner and intermediate birdwatchers. Educational programs are held daily during lunch time. Some of the species that will be seen during this festival include Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black Capped Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, and the Zone-tailed Hawk.
More Bird Festivals
This is just a small sampling of the bird festivals taking place during this year’s fall migration. If you’re looking for a different location or a festival built around a specific species, you can visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird festival page. There’s a festival to suit every birdwatcher’s personal preference.
Birding festivals are amazing events. Whether it is a one-day celebration or a week-long gala, if you know what to expect and take the steps to get involved, you will certainly have one of the best birding times you have ever experienced.