For a wonderful nature show, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. Some of the best bird fests occur at or near national wildlife refuges. That’s not surprising, given that these public lands are such birdy places.
National wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also have resident bird experts and dedicated wildlife viewing areas.
Here is our 2023-24 calendar of bird festivals at or near refuges. Many festivals have resumed normal form after they were cancelled or changed to meet safety concerns tied to the Covid-19 pandemic. In-person events fill up fast, so consider registering ahead if you go. Some festivals charge a registration or activity fee.
In cases where exact dates aren’t yet available, we’ve listed the general timeframe. A few festival websites have updates pending.
Morro Bay Bird Festival
Morro Bay, CA
January 11-15, 2024
The annual festival, on California's Central Coast, includes two field trips to Kern National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy more than 200 guided bird walks and tours, presentations, workshops and other activities. Registration opens November 4, 2023, at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. Pre-registration is strongly advised as trips fill up rapidly. Special guests include author Jennifer Ackerman and artist John Muir Laws.
Festival of the Cranes
January 12-14, 2024
See wintering sandhill cranes, whooping cranes and white pelicans at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Wheeler Refuge boasts the state’s largest population of wintering ducks. Enjoy workshops, nature walks, live raptors and kids’ activities.
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival
Cape Canaveral, FL
January 24-28, 2024
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a field trip destination for this annual bird festival, billed as one of the country’s largest.
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
January 25-28, 2024
See thousands of birds lift off from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Delevan National Wildlife Refuge. Some years include a field trip to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.
Winter Wildlife Festival
Virginia Beach, VA
January 27-February 4, 2024
Cap off a month-long celebration of coastal wildlife with three days of guided tours. These include trips to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Registration for festival trips and excursions opens November 15, 2023.
Marble Falls, TX
February 3, 2024
The central Texas Hill Country is a great place to see America’s native sparrows in late winter. The annual Sparrow Fest is hosted by the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Visit the refuge and learn about the 20-plus native species regularly seen in central Texas.
San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival
February 9-12, 2024
The annual festival celebrates the more than a million shorebirds and hundreds of thousands of ducks plus hawks and other wildlife that pass through the Bay Area. The festival traditionally includes field trips to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
San Diego Bird Festival
San Diego, CA
Feb 21-25, 2024
The festival traditionally offers field trips 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.
Whooping Crane Festival
Port Aransas, TX
February 22-25, 2024
Port Aransas, about 90 minutes 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.
Monte Vista Crane Festival
Monte Vista, CO
March 8-10, 2024
The annual festival, hosted by Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges, and the Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce, offers visitors the chance to see thousands of sandhill cranes, ducks and geese fly over mountain scenery in the San Luis Valley. Tickets for tours and talks go on sale January 3.
Sandhill Crane Festival
March 22-24, 2024
The festival, hosted by Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. celebrates the annual return of nearly 35,000 sand hill cranes to Othello, Washington in March as they migrate north to their breeding grounds in Alaska. Tours by local experts offer opportunities to see cranes up close and learn about the flora, fauna and geology of the area.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival
April 11-14, 2024
Celebrate birds’ spring migration through southeast Oregon’s Harney Basin. Hundreds of species of birds pass through the high desert area. Nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a traditional field trip destination. Enjoy tours, workshops and other events.
Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival
April 18-21, 2024
Humboldt County, California
The festival traditionally includes a field trip to Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
April 18-21, 2024
The festival traditionally includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
“Ding” Darling Day
Fort Myers, FL
April 20, 2024
This annual conservation festival, previously held in October at J. N. “Ding’’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, was rescheduled and moved to Fort Myers to better serve local communities and draw a wider audience. Events include bird walks, bring-your-own bike tours and family activities.
World Migratory Bird Days
Lake Geneva, WI and vicinity
April 30 and May 7, 2023
Enjoy bird walks and activities at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge with events on three days at three different sites. The Friends of Hackmatack Refuge and refuge partners are sponsoring the event.
Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival
May 3-5, 2024
Each spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds pause on their way north to rest and feed along the Washington coast and in the Grays Harbor estuary. Some of these Arctic-bound shorebirds come from as far south as Argentina, making them among the world’s longest-distance travelers. Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and other local birding hotspots traditionally have a role in the festival.
The Biggest Week in American Birding
May 3-12, 2024
Organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the festival coincides with the peak of spring bird migration in the state’s Lake Erie Marsh region. The festival traditionally features field trips to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
May 8-12, 2024
This large Alaska wildlife-viewing festival honors the spring migration of shorebirds through Kachemak Bay. The festival is sponsored by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Fest
May 10-12, 2023
More than 200 bird species have been recorded at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Birds that breed there have ranges that reach five other continents and all 50 states. This virtual festival connects people across the globe to this remote yet iconic landscape.
Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
Marsh Haven Nature Center, WI
May 9-12, 2024
Enjoy guided birding hikes, bus tours and paddles, bird-banding demos, special exhibits and kid’s activities. The festival is sponsored by Horicon Marsh Bird Club, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Marsh Haven Nature Center.
World Migratory Bird Day
May 11, 2024
The United States and Canada traditionally celebrate the second Saturday in May as World Migratory Bird Day. The annual event 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. Many wildlife refuges take part in the celebrations.
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
May 16-19, 2024
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s traditional field trip destinations. Event headquarters is at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on the edge of the Great Salt Lake.
Festival of the Birds
Detroit Lakes, MN
May 16-18, 2024
Because Detroit Lakes is located in a transition zone between tall grass prairie, northern hardwood and conifer forest, it has many kinds of birds. On-site tours include trips to Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and other conservation areas. The festival will kick off with competitive bird trivia.
Spring Wings Bird Festival
May 20-21, 2023
Discover the Lahontan Valley Wetlands in northern Nevada and their tremendous diversity of bird species. The festival will include self-guided tours to five local wetlands: Carson Lake, Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribal Wetlands, NAS Fallon Nature Trail, Lahontan State Recreation Area, and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. Volunteers will be at each location to help participants. Festival Central will be located at Oats Park in Fallon, Nevada. Events include a Big Day birding competition, a birding scavenger hunt and a photo contest. Stop by the new refuge headquarters at 3175 Freeman Lane, Fallon, NV and visit with refuge staff. Free tours of the refuge will be given hourly starting at 7 am.
Down East Spring Birding Festival
May 24-27, 2024
The festival during spring migration and breeding season includes guided hikes, boat tours, and presentations, all led by knowledgeable local guides. This festival traditionally includes field trips to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, an event sponsor. The Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife named the festival one of the country’s best.
Wings Over Willapa Festival
Long Beach, WA
September 20-22, 2024
The festival includes tours, presentations and workshops to celebrate birds and Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Field trips traditionally go to Leadbetter Point, Long Island and other refuge units as well as Cape Disappointment State Park, Willapa Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Alabama Coastal BirdFest
Spanish Fort, AL
October 4-7, 2023
This Gulf Coast event traditionally includes guided birding tours at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi.
Ridgefield Birdfest and Bluegrass
October 7, 2023
Celebrate fall and local wildlife with Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The annual festival highlights the refuge, nature and the region’s cultural history. In past years, events have included bird shows, music, hikes, family arts and crafts, and educational activities.
Wings Over Water
October 17-22, 2023
This festival celebrates the birds and wildlife of coastal North Carolina during the peak of fall migration on the Outer Banks. Migrant shorebirds, seabirds, warblers and raptors are all moving through the area, joining resident marsh and forest birds. Typical field trips include visits to popular birding refuges such as Pea Island, Mackay Island, Alligator River, Mattamuskeet and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuges. Trips often include visits to normally closed areas.
Fall Flight Festival
Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, NM
Every Sunday in November
From 8 a.m. to noon each Sunday, visitors can take a self-guided tour of wetlands and bird habitat along a 4 ½ mile wildlife drive normally closed to the public. Volunteer roving naturalists are on hand with spotting scopes to help identify birds, including waterfowl, eagles and sandhill cranes. The annual festival is co-hosted by the Friends of Las Vegas Refuge.
Forest City, MO
December 2-3, 2023
Celebrate the annual Eagle Days at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. Drive the auto tour route and visit interpretive and outreach stations. See eagles, ducks, geese, and trumpeter swans.
Festival of the Cranes
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
December 6-9, 2023
Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese overwinter at picturesque Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour’s drive south from Albuquerque. This famous bird fest celebrates the birds’ arrival and draws visitors from around the world. The festival, hosted by the Friends of Bosque del Apache Refuge, includes workshops, tours and wildlife photography lessons.
Wings Over Water Encore
December 8-10, 2023
This festival is timed to coincide with the early-winter arrival of thousands of migratory birds and waterfowl. Flocks of thousands of tundra swans, snow geese and ducks draw birders from around the country to national wildlife refuges in coastal North Carolina.