Spring bird festivals

After a long winter, birders welcome the return of feathered friends.

Birders in spring.
Birders watch waterfowl in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in southwest Wisconsin.

By April, the harbingers of spring are on the move.

"The spring migration is well underway!" comes the report from wildlife refuges. "Eagles and swans, Canada geese, robins, sparrows, sandhills cranes have arrived!"

Where there are birds, there are birders — and bird festivals. Those are especially nice for beginners, who don't yet have the skills to find and identify birds.

If there's a bird-banding demonstration, don't miss it; it's a good chance to see identifying markings of a bird close-up.

Below are some of the best festivals in 2024.

Space on field trips and tours goes fast, so sign up as early as possible.

April 20, Earth Day Birding Festival in Hastings, Minn. This festival at Carpenter Nature Center, above the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, includes raptor and introduction to birding classes, bird-banding demonstrations and guided birding trips. Reservations are required.

April, Spring Fling at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Paradise, Mich. At the southeast corner of Lake Superior near the Soo Locks, thousands of migrating birds are funneled past this point, adjacent to Seney National Wildlife Refuge and next to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

The festival includes early-morning and dusk owl programs plus walks and workshops.

May 4 and 18, Spring by Mini-Train near Alma, Wis. Spot birds while riding the Chippewa Valley Railroad Association's mini-train from Durand through the Tiffany Bottoms, along the Chippewa River as it flows to the  Mississippi.

These rides are not specifically for birding. In 2024, the birding by mini-train trip will be Sept. 21.

Cost is $25. Reserve early. For more, see Birding by rail.

May 10-13, Horicon Marsh Bird Festival in east-central Wisconsin. This large festival is around a large marsh often called the Everglades of the North.

There are bird hikes, bird-banding demonstrations, pontoon-boat tours, canoe and kayak tours, bus tours and a round-the-clock Big Sit, in which participants try to identify as many birds as possible.

A gray jay on the Gunflint Trail.
The whiskey jack, or gray jay, likes to get close to food-bearing tourists.

For more, see Life on Horicon Marsh.

May 16-18, Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Learn to identify bird songs and join field trips at this big festival in northwest Minnesota, near the convergence of prairie with northern pine forest and eastern hardwood forest.

Space in field trips to local refuges fills quickly, so reserve soon.

May 17-19, Washington Islands Birding Festival in Door County, Wis. There's birding and banding on Plum and Rock islands as well as Washington Island. Registration is limited.

May 23-25, Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival based out of the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in Ashland, Wis. Activities include bird-banding, hikes and expeditions, hatchery tours and kayaking tours of estuaries.

It also offers very handy descriptions of self-guided bird walks in its region with accompanying map.

May, Spring Festival at Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wis. Join birding tours, watch bird-banding and learn about wild edibles. There are also activities for children.

May 31-June 2, Northern Landscapes Festival in Grand Marais, Minn. Workshops and field trips, hosted by the North House Folk School, include such topics as boreal birding, birding by ear, bird basics and banding.

Last updated on February 3, 2022

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