With winter's chill in retreat, you may be feeling an itch to migrate outside in search of birds. Whether you're looking to stick close to home or hit the road, the season brims with opportunities, especially as birding festivals crop up across the country during spring migration.
Festivals offer unparalleled chances to learn, to see new birds, and to make new friends. These beginner-friendly events pack a plethora of birding activities into a few days: entertaining-yet-educational talks, field trips for all skill levels, social gatherings, and usually a lineup of vendors and exhibitors.
If festivals aren't your thing, consider film screenings, museum exhibits, volunteer opportunities, and other events for bird lovers to enjoy this spring. So mark your calendars and get ready to go out and start exploring.
World Premiere of Birds of May
Washington, DC; March 18
Every May, Red Knots flood Delaware Bay to feast on horseshoe crab eggs. It’s one of their most valuable rest stops on the long flight from the tip of South America to the Arctic. Birds of May is a half-hour documentary about these beautiful birds and the challenges they face each year along their already arduous migration. During the Environmental Film Festival, which runs March 14–26, the film will be screened for the first time in conjunction with a panel discussion. Screenings will take place in other locations throughout the spring, and anyone can watch it online at audubon.org May 1–7.
More info: dceff.org/film/birdsofmay
Sign Up for Audubon's Hog Island Summer Camp Program
Hog Island, ME; programs run June 4–September 15
No one is too old for summer camp. Hog Island, Audubon's ornithology getaway off the coast of Maine, hosts a range of avian programs for teenagers and adults. Whether you are a beginning birder or deep into your life list, there's a session to match your birding goals—and deep in the heart of puffin territory to boot. Slots fill up fast, so register soon.
More info: hogisland.audubon.org/programs/registration
Galveston Island, TX; April 6–9
Timed for the first rush of spring migration, the 15th annual FeatherFest highlights the top birding sites of Galveston Island and nearby areas, which count among the best spots on the upper Texas coast. A strong slate of nature-photography workshops complement birding programs, and the weekend features special activities for children. Field trips are likely to produce upwards of 200 bird species, including such gems as the White-tailed Kite, Upland Sandpiper, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.
More info: galvestonfeatherfest.com
National Parks Week
Nationwide; April 15–16 and April 22–23
The National Parks Service is waiving all entrance fees for these two weekends in April, which bookend National Parks Week. From California Condors at Pinnacles National Park to Roseate Spoonbills in Everglades National Park, hundreds of sites across the country boast incredible birdlife. If you're interested in getting off the beaten path, check out our guide to five parks filled with birds, not tourists.
More info: nps.gov/findapark/national-park-week.htm
Atlanta Bird Fest
Atlanta, GA; April 15–May 14
One weekend isn’t enough time to enjoy all the birding Atlanta has to offer. This monthlong celebration, hosted by the Atlanta Audubon Society, offers a variety of events for the whole family. Field trips take attendees into a variety of habitats, including wetlands teeming with waterfowl and hotspots inhabited by a number of northeast Georgia's specialty species, such as Cerulean Warblers and Ruffed Grouse.
More info: atlantaaudubon.org/atlanta-bird-fest
Arcata, CA; April 19–25
In late April, thousands of Marbled Godwits gather on the flats around Northern California’s Humboldt Bay, adding to the dozens of shorebird species (and more than 200 other avian species) found in the region. The Godwit Days festival highlights this bounty with diverse programs led by experts. Field trips range from coasts to marshes and rivers to redwood forests, producing a rich diversity of birds that includes Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets. This year’s keynote speaker, Noah Strycker, will share stories from the yearlong birding quest he blogged about for Audubon.
More info: godwitdays.org
Nationwide; on and around April 22
Take a hands-on approach to bird conservation by volunteering this Earth Day. Across the country, people will pitch in to pick up trash in local parks, plant native vegetation, and more. Volunteer Match is a great resource for finding events near you.
More info: volunteermatch.org
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival
Homer, AK; May 4–7
Alaska’s biggest birding festival marks its 25th year with a keynote by renowned birder, wildlife biologist, and author J. Drew Lanham. Kachemak Bay draws more than 130 migratory species, including visitors from Asia. Field trips get attendees into the wild by foot and by boat to search for shorebird stars such as Rock Sandpipers and Pacific Golden-Plovers, as well as plenty of other avian species, from Red-faced Cormorants to Spruce Grouse.
More info: kachemakshorebird.org
Indiana Dunes Birding Festival
Porter, IN; May 4–7
This region's range of ecosystems—from bogs and woodlands to black oak savannas and dunes—supports a wide variety of species. Festivalgoers will have opportunities to spot rare birds, including Kirtland’s Warblers and Whooping Cranes, and join special walks to find woodcocks and whipporwills. Take part in a bird survey, get artsy with bird-inspired woodcut printmaking, or peek behind the scenes at Chicago’s Field Museum. Numerous talks tailored to the uniqueness of the area will make you feel like a local.
More info: indunesbirdingfestival.com
The Biggest Week in American Birding
Oak Harbor, OH; May 5–14
Every May, Ohio's Magee Marsh receives dozens of species of warblers as they pass through on their northward migrations. The birds are decked out in their brightest colors for breeding season, and the 10-day Biggest Week in American Birding festival invites tens of thousands of birders to enjoy the view. Whether you're a new or experienced birder, swing by to attend bird-identification workshops, guided birding trips by foot or canoe, American Woodcock field trips, keynote presentations, a Birder’s Marketplace, and evening events with free food and music. Best of all, 100 percent of the festival's proceeds go towards improving bird habitat.
More info: biggestweekinamericanbirding.com
International Migratory Bird Day
Global; May 14
It's the ultimate celebration of spring migration season: an entire day devoted to the astonishing treks birds make every year. Not all birds undertake their journeys at the same time, so bird walks, educational talks, and other events last throughout April and May. Check the official calendar to see what's happening near you.
More info: birdday.org
Festival of Birds
Detroit Lakes, MN; May 18–21
A plentiful mix of breeding birds inhabit west-central Minnesota, where coniferous forest, northern hardwood forest, and tall-grass prairie meet. In May, when Detroit Lakes celebrates its 20th-anniversary festival, the birding is first rate. Distinguished author and artist David Sibley will give the keynote, and morning field trips should turn up birds like Red-necked Grebes, Ruffed Grouse, and Golden-winged Warblers.
More info: visitdetroitlakes.com/events/festival-of-birds
Acadia Birding Festival
Bar Harbor, ME; June 1–4
Postcard-perfect coasts and forests draw visitors to Acadia National Park all summer long. This festival is timed for peak birding, in early June, before the height of tourist season. Field trips explore the region’s remarkable abundance and variety of nesting warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, and other songbirds as they defend their territories. One highlight is the Saturday boat trip to seek Atlantic Puffins, Arctic and Roseate Terns, and other seabirds.
More info: acadiabirdingfestival.com
Nature's Best 2016 Photography at the Smithsonian
Washington, DC; through September
Admire and experience award-winning nature photography at the Nature’s Best Photography exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The 82 winning nature photos, chosen from 25,000 entries, include five winning photographs from the 2016 Audubon Photography Awards, along with video features that tell the stories behind each image. (The winners of the 2017 Audubon Photography Awards will be announced in our Summer issue.)
More info: naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/natures-best-2016