Travel

13 Fun Birding Events to Fill Your Winter Weekends

Grab your calendars and mark down these avian activities from Oregon to Florida.

Winter is just around the corner. While hibernating for a few months makes for a tempting option, think of all the birds you'd miss! Instead, go see them at birding events around the country. Marvel at migrating seabirds on the West Coast, search Minnesota’s top birding bog for owls, or warm up with a birding trip to Florida or Texas. Here are 13 ideas to get you out of the house for a winter birding adventure.

Nature's Best 2016 Photography at the Smithsonian

(featuring 2016 Audubon Photography Awards winners)

Washington, D.C.; through September 2017

Take a journey through the wild within the walls of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History by visiting the Nature’s Best Photography exhibition. Head to the second floor to see the 82 winning photos, chosen from 25,000 entries. The exhibit includes five winning photographs from the 2016 Audubon Photography Awards, along with video features highlighting the photographers and the stories behind each image. Once you’ve taken a look at last year’s winners, see if you've got the chops to be featured in the gallery next year. The 2017 Audubon Photography Awards will accept entries between January 6 and February 20.

More information: http://naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/natures-best-2016/

Holiday with the Cranes on Galveston Island

Galveston Island, Texas; December 10 11

Statuesque and crimson-capped, Sandhill Cranes are among the top migratory bird spectacles as they traverse the prairies and marshes of North America. To follow the cranes to their winter stomping grounds, head down to Galveston Island for a weekend that celebrates the island’s wintering bird population. Spend mornings and evenings touring the breezy lagoons and winter bird habitats on this balmy Gulf Coast island by foot, car, and golf cart. Then, find out everything there is to know about Sandhill Cranes with Saturday and Sunday morning seminars, followed by the Crane Crawl, where participants caravan through the bird’s favorite island hotspots.  

More information: http://www.GalvestonNatureTourism.org

In Texas, you don't need a scarf—only binoculars—to enjoy wintertime birding. Photo: Courtesy of Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council

Audubon's 117th Christmas Bird Count

North and South America; December 14 January 5

Every year, thousands of birders from all over the country contribute to Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, an annual wildlife census that assesses the health of bird populations to guide science and conservation. With hundreds of counts all over the country, you don’t have to travel far or be an expert birder to take part. Join a circle count in your area and get to know more of your local birds (and fellow birdwatchers). Follow the link below to find out how you can participate in the long-standing birding tradition this year.

More information: http://www.audubon.org/conservation/join-christmas-bird-count

Wings in Winter at the National Aviary

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; through January 2

For close encounters of the feathered kind, visit the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, which is home to more than 500 rare and endangered birds from across the world. Kid-friendly events are ongoing throughout December, including a Holiday Penguin Camp, during which children learn about and help feed endangered African Penguins, and a brunch (and bird show) with Santa. For the weekday visitor, there are Snowy and Eurasian Owl exhibits and daily Wings in Winter Holiday Shows featuring sing-alongs and live flight demonstrations by some of the aviary’s most popular birds. Multi-taskers might also want stock up on holiday gifts for all the birders in their lives at the gift and garden shop.

More information: https://www.aviary.org/wings-in-winter

Lake Apopka Wildlife Festival and Birdapalooza

Magnolia Park, Florida; January 21

Consider this a twofer. After spending a little time at nearby Disneworld, take a break from the crowds and drive 25 minutes north for Birdapalooza, a weekend of family-friendly birding on the serene shores of Florida’s third-largest lake. Explore 20 miles of hiking and biking trails along Lake Apopka’s north shore as you search for more than 360 different bird species, including Mottled Ducks and Green Herons, with members of the Orange Audubon Society. There are also airboat rides, birding demonstrations, and presentations with live entertainment and food trucks.

More information: http://www.birdapalooza.com/

Waterbird Festival

Richardson Bay, California; January 21

Waterbird lovers, grab your scopes and hit up a San Francisco birding experience dedicated to the migratory waterfowl that depend on Bay Area habitats. In January, make your way to Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary to marvel at rafts of wintering scaup, scoters, grebes, cormorants, and more. Learn birding basics with a tutorial or a sketching class, or explore the 900-acre sanctuary with an expert guide from one of the Bay Area Audubon centers. After you work up an appetite, feast on offerings from a variety of food trucks. 

More information: http://richardsonbay.audubon.org/programs/waterbird-festival

Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway

Chico, California; January 25 – 29

Tens of thousands of Snow Geese flock to the Northern Sacramento Valley each winter as part of an avian spectacle that includes millions of other migrating species. There, west coast birders celebrate the geese and other avian travelers along nature’s busiest bird highway with a five-day birding festival. The 18th Annual Snow Goose Festival features opportunities to admire the migrating waterfowl and raptors of the Pacific Flyway, with more than 70 guided field trips and workshops to suit birders of every level. Sign up for a naturalist-led birding tour and wine tasting, or grab a flashlight for a family-centric owl prowl after dark, among other activities.

More information: http://www.snowgoosefestival.org/

A magnificent flock of Snow Geese is a fine motivation to oust you from beneath your blanket pile. Photo: Mike Peters/Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival

Titusville, Florida; January 25 – 30

Many tourists visit Florida’s Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center for the rocket launches and space history—but it’s a wonderland for birders, too. The area’s rivers, lagoons, and estuaries are home to more than 330 bird species, including the Florida Scrub-jay and the Painted Bunting, and for the past 20 years, the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival has celebrated them. After exploring the area’s rich biodiversity, head indoors to the exhibit center to catch presentations from birding experts, marvel at art displays, and shop for gear. Finally, after a day (or days) of bird-themed fun, unwind with other revelers at the festival’s very own street party in downtown Titusville on Saturday night.

More information: http://www.spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org/

Eagle Fest  

Emory, Texas; January 28 – 29

Join fellow eagle enthusiasts at the Lone Star State’s bona fide "Eagle Capital" for two days of raptor-centric celebrations. Since being declared Texas’ Eagle Capital by state lawmakers in 1995, Rains County has become a protected nesting and feeding ground for eagles and other raptors, which makes for some great birding opportunities. Learn more about our national bird during live demonstrations with captive Bald Eagles and other raptors, and then jump on a bus or barge to see these spectacular predators in the wild at two nearby lakes.

More information: http://www.visitrainscounty.com/eagle-fest-2017

Teatown's Hudson River Eaglefest

Croton, New York; February 11

Bundle up and join fellow bird lovers for a day of eagle-inspired activities in the scenic wooded hills of New York's Hudson Valley. Eaglefest celebrates our national bird with opportunities to see wild and captive Bald Eagles and other raptors during live shows and tours of birding hotspots along the Hudson River. The nonprofit Teatown Lake Reservation hosts 25 local organizations, including Saw Mill River Audubon and Audubon Greenwich, which all take part in a day filled with live music, local cuisine, and activities for birders of all ages.

More information: http://www.teatown.org/teatown-events/eaglefest.html

Go ahead and stay indoors; you'll only miss the chance to glimpse a majestic Great Grey Owl. Photo: Sparky Stensaas/Audubon Photography Awards

Winter Wings Festival

Klamath Falls, Oregon; February 16 – 19

Even during winter, the Klamath Basin's vast network of forests, wetlands, and grasslands is a birding paradise. Thousands of migrating birds including Virginia Rails, Soras, and Ross’s Geese headline the basin’s winter festival, but there are also plenty of raptors to be found in this birding hotspot. Whether you get your kicks in a scenic 5K jaunt through the basin during the Winter Wings Run, or kick your photography into high gear with tips from renowned wildlife photographers, this weekend lineup has something for everyone.

More information: http://winterwingsfest.org/

Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival

Meadowlands, Minnesota; February 17 – 19

Minnesota’s Sax Zim Bog is called the Arctic Riviera of boreal birds for a reason: This winter hotspot is one of the best places to find hard-to-find northern birds. Track down a Great Gray or Snowy Owl on the aptly named Owl Avenue, and look for Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and more species at the bog’s feeders. The 10th Annual Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival offers visitors a chance to meet fellow birders, go on guided tours, and view evening programs from birding experts. Just be sure to register soon, as space is limited.

More information: http://www.saxzimbirdingfestival.com/

The Great Backyard Bird Count 

Planet Earth; February 17 – 20

The Great Backyard Bird Count is one birding activity that can be done from literally anywhere on the planet. Join hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and walks of life to create a snapshot of birds across the world. All you have to do is spend 15 minutes tallying the numbers and types of birds you see on one or more of the days of the count. You can count birds at your local park, nearby wildlife reserve, or your own backyard. To find out more and sign up, check out the link below.

More information: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

Bring your kids to a birding event and they may find themselves as rapt as you are. Photo: David Taylor
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