16 Virtual and In-Person Birding Festivals to Celebrate Spring Migration
As the severity of the global pandemic began to hit home last spring, birding festivals, like most social gatherings, were put on pause. Many of us found solace by diving into local birdwatching and grew to appreciate our backyard species in new ways, but we’re all eager to safely reconnect once again. There’s good news on that front: Many spring birding festivals are back, with options to join online wherever you are.
Some festivals have opted to go entirely virtual, while others will welcome in-person visitors. Whether you’re eager to get out in the field or are only ready for armchair adventure, opportunities abound to hone your birding skills and connect with fellow birders this spring. Here are some of the highlights.
Godwit Days Spring Migration Festival
Arcata, CA; April 16-18
This year’s Godwit Days celebration has been condensed into a jam-packed weekend of virtual lessons, tours, and social events that will thrill shorebird enthusiasts. Participants will learn about the many species like Marbled Godwits and Snowy Plovers that inhabit the region’s winding rivers, large mudflats, and wild coasts. Zoom events include a survey of Humbolt Bay’s shorebirds, tips and techniques for sketching species in the field, and a keynote speech on recording, identifying, and interpreting bird sounds.
Owens Lake Bird Festival
Lone Pine, CA; April 23-24
Pre-pandemic, visitors gathered in Lone Pine, California, to catch a glimpse of the many migratory shorebirds and waterfowl that use Owens Lake as a stopover point. This year, the Owens Lake Bird Festival is going virtual with a two-day event that features three presentations covering habitat management, photography, and migration.
Details: Registration is free with suggested donation. Events are hosted on Zoom. More info here.
Point Reyes Birding & Nature Festival
Point Reyes, CA; April 22-25
Point Reyes, one of the nation’s top birding hotspots, welcomes visitors to join a four-day webinar series. From the comfort of home, join workshops that cover local conservation efforts, community science apps, and birdsong identification. Learn from local experts about birds’ relationships with native wildlife, like monarch butterflies, California river otters, and northern elephant seals.
New River Birding & Nature Festival
Fayetteville, WV; April 25-May 1
The New River Birding and Nature Festival typically welcomes visitors to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, but this year, it’s taking its festivities to Facebook. Follow the event page throughout the week for photos and videos of local birds like Golden-winged and Swainson’s Warblers, enter raffles, connect with fellow birders in online discussions, and more. The festival organizers are releasing a birding guide to the country’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, for those who want to explore on their own.
Details: Registration is free. Events hosted on Facebook. More info here.
Biggest Week in American Birding
Oregon, OH; May 6-10
The “Warbler Capital of the World” in Northwest Ohio is offering its beloved Biggest Week in American Birding virtually. After registering, visitors can create their own schedule of workshops on birding by ear, photo editing, sketching, and bird-friendly conservation solutions. Learn from some of the biggest names in birding, like J. Drew Lanham, Kenn Kaufman, and Corina Newsome.
Details: Registration is $35 (Free for Black Swamp Bird Observatory members). Birders should note that the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk is closed April 17-May 31. More info here.
Georgia Bird Fest
Atlanta, GA; April 17-May 16
Georgia Bird Fest is welcoming both virtual and in-person birders this year. In-the-flesh attendees can choose between dozens of field trips and workshops across the state, including excursions to local wetlands and parks to search for Painted Buntings, Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Parulas, or join a tour of the birds of Zoo Atlanta. Those joining online will enjoy workshops on warbler identification, gardening for birds, and the intersection of birds and Black artistic expression. Masks and social distancing will be required for in-person events.
Details: Registration is $50 ($40 for Georgia Audubon members). Additional in-person events are $30 per event. More info here.
Red Cliffs Bird Fest
St. George, UT; April 22-24
The natural beauty of Zion National Park is a stunning backdrop to the hundreds of spring migrants that the region welcomes. Those curious about local history can join the Birds and Ghosts tour of the nearby abandoned town of Grafton while watching for Vermilion Flycatchers, Common Black Hawks, and Summer and Western Tanagers. If the supernatural isn’t your thing, pick up a paddle and look for shorebirds by kayak or join an evening owl prowl. Events and field trips will be held in person, but speakers will be on Zoom.
Details: Registration is $10. Additional cost of $20 for most events. More info here.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival
Harney County, OR; April 22-25
Embark on a digital adventure through Southeast Oregon’s Harney Basin. Along the route, you’ll unravel the mystery of fictional character Magnus Sparrow via videos about local history, places, and birds. If you would rather forgo the online treasure hunt, choose from a selection of Zoom presentations on eBirding, falconry, the ecology of feathers, and more. The festival also includes two in-person events, one of which is limited to Harney County locals. Don’t miss the keynote speech by renowned birder and Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman.
Details: Registration is free. Additional cost of $0-$30 per event. Events are hosted on Zoom. More info here.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
Homer, AK; May 5-9
Now in its 29th year, the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival welcomes in-person and virtual participants to explore Alaska’s incredible spring influx of shorebirds, including Sandhill Cranes and Aleutian Terns. And they aren’t the only draw: You can also spot migratory seabirds among brown bears and rafts of sea otters, or boat to Gull Island to see 12,000 nesting birds, like puffins, cormorants, and murres. Those tuning in remotely will learn about the threat of invasive species in Kachemak Bay and follow along with a virtual lab about what birds eat. The festival offers a range of games and events for young birders, too.
Details: Registration is $20. Additional cost of $75-$300 per event. Most junior birder events are free. More info here.
Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival
Cordova, AK; May 6-9
More than 5 million shorebirds rely on Alaska’s Copper River Delta, North America’s largest undisturbed wetland, in their migratory journey. Refresh your shorebird identification skills at the Hartney Bay Mudflats, hop on a bike for a self-guided tour of the town and local wetlands, or compete in the eight-hour Great Cordova Birding Challenge. Those attending remotely can try their hand at felting their own bird nest in a virtual class or compete in a bird-themed trivia night.
Details: Registration fee of $50 for in-person events and some virtual content ($25 for students). Almost all in-person events are free. More info here.
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
Farmington, UT; May 13-16
Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake is a critical feeding spot for birds on their annual journey north, bringing hundreds of species to the region, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Lazuli Buntings, and Mountain Bluebirds. Those planning to attend in person can spend the morning cruising the lake by kayak or canoe, watch spring migrants rest and refuel along its shores, or join an evening walk to search for Burrowing Owls. Online visitors can choose from a selection of virtual birding walks and in-depth lessons on local species. To increase safety, group sizes are limited and face masks are required.
Details: Registration is $25 for both virtual and in-person attendees. Kids 12 and under are free. Additional cost of $25-$40 per event. More info here.
Indiana Dunes Birding Festival
Chesterton, IN; May 13-16
The seventh annual Indiana Dunes Birding Festival challenges attendees to rack up 100 species or more in the eight-hour Dunes Big Morning, investigate nearby wetlands for mergansers, herons, and bitterns, or break a sweat at the birding biathlon run and ride. Those connecting online can join local birding experts on virtual tours through the region’s hotspots and see mist-netting and bird-banding up-close.
Details: Registration is $25-$64, depending on the selected option. Some field trips and workshops require an additional fee, most from $5-$20. More info here.
Festival Of Birds in Detroit Lakes Minnesota
Detroit Lakes, MN; May 20-22
Tucked between stretches of prairie and forest, the Detroit Lakes ecosystem draws a variety of species each spring. Birders can join tours through local woods and wetlands, or venture to the prairie to spot a lek of male Greater Prairie-Chickens vying for the attention of females. The selection of virtual events includes workshops on identifying hawks in flight and a warbler identification lesson and quiz.
Details: Registration is $25. More info here.
Galveston, TX; April 15-18
Despite its small size, Galveston Island hosts hundreds of species at the height of spring migration, including American Avocets, Glossy Ibis, and Black-necked Stilts. This week-long gathering offers a range of trips to local birding hotspots, photography workshops for all levels, and tours by e-bike, kayak, and boat. This year, FeatherFest organizers have added safety measures, including masking and offering smaller, socially distanced field trips.
Details: Registration is $25. Additional fees per event, most ranging from $45-$100. More info here.
The Birdiest Festival in America
Corpus Christi, TX; April 21-25
Spring migration never fails to draw birders to the Gulf Coast to catch a glimpse of the gulls, terns, and plovers that flood the region. This five-day festival in Corpus Christi, Texas offers a host of trips for new and advanced birders, including walks, photography workshops, lessons on native plants, and demonstrations by falconer Jonathan Wood. Safety protocols include temperature checks, masking in crowded and indoor spaces, and social distancing at events.
Details: Registration is $25. Addition cost of $5-$165 per event. More info here.
Acadia Birding Festival
Bar Harbor, ME; June 3-6
Immerse yourself in the birds of Maine in Acadia National Park and surrounding birding hotspots. Improve your birding by ear, nurture your artistic side in drawing courses, or join a boat trip to spot Atlantic Puffins, Common Murres, and Razorbills. The festival is planning for mostly in-person trips and talks, though a small selection of events will be available to view virtually.
Details: Registration is $15. Additional cost for events, most range from $25-$45. National Park Pass required for vehicles. (Week-long pass costs $30.) More info here.