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 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.
Wings of Winter
January 13-15, 2023
The festival traditionally includes field trips to Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge. Take part in workshops on wildlife photography, beginning birding and journaling/poetry writing about birding.
Festival of the Cranes
January 13-15, 2023
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.
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
January 26-29, 2023
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 28-February 5, 2023
Cap off a month-long celebration of coastal wildlife with three days of guided tours. These include trips to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival
Cape Canaveral, FL
February 1-5, 2023
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a field trip destination for this annual bird festival, billed as one of the country’s largest.
Marble Falls, TX
February 4, 2023
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 10-12, 2023
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
February 21, 2023
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.
Winter Wings Bird Festival
Klamath Falls, OR
February 17-20, 2023
The three-day festival offers visitors the chance to visit one or more of the nearby Klamath Basin Refuges — Lower Klamath, Upper Klamath, Tule Lake, Klamath Marsh, Bear Valley and Clear Lake — as well as Crater Lake National Park and other area birding hotspots.
Whooping Crane Festival
Port Aransas, TX
February 23-26, 2023
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.
April 20-23, 2023
The festival traditionally includes field trips to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Harney County Migratory Bird Festival
April 21-24, 2023
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.
“Ding” Darling Day
Fort Myers, FL
April 22, 2023
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.
Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
Volusia County, FL
April 22, 2023
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Florida scrub-jays are found at Nathaniel P. Reed 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 environmental exhibits.
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.
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
May 3-7, 2023
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.
Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival
May 5 -7, 2023
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 5-14, 2023
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.
Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Fest
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 12-14, 2023
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 13, 2023
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 18-21, 2023
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 18-20, 2023
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 birding by boat.
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 26-29, 2023
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 22-24, 2023
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.