Picture an autumn sky blanketed with birds erupting into flight, filling the air with calls and the sound of thousands of wings beating together. Fall is the perfect season for bird watching. Whether this is your first birding experience or you’re a professional ornithologist, experiencing a festival at one of your National Wildlife Refuges or other federal lands during fall migration presents the opportunity to witness one of nature’s wonders and learn more about birds. With migration reaching its peak in the coming weeks, we’re providing our recommendation for six incredible festivals to take in the show!
The Top 6 Festivals for Fall Birdwatching
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (Doreen Miller, Share the Experience)
Attend the Festival of the Cranes and see wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese by the thousands. The festival is held at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge outside of Socorro, approximately 1.5 hours south of Albuquerque. Enjoy workshops, tours and other events at one of the most celebrated bird festivals in the country. The 57,331 acre (23,201 hectares) refuge straddles the Rio Grande River at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert. Use this 2019 festival brochure to help you plan your visit then come enjoy the Land of Enchantment. Read this article on bird band #599-05468 about a crane with some serious frequent flyer miles. You can watch this video about wintering cranes at Bosque del Apache.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (Matthew Karns, Share the Experience)
Head to the Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival this fall. Near the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this multi-day festival features field trips to six national wildlife refuges: Pea Island, Alligator River, Mattamuskeet, Pocosin Lakes, Currituck and Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuges, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Jockey's Ridge State Park. Also included: classroom programs, bird walks, paddling trips and talks about wildlife photography and natural history.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (Yatt Ng, Share the Experience)
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge will offer guided walks, tours and other special events to mark the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge. Some tours will be in areas normally closed to the public. The refuge provides habitat for greater snow geese and many other migratory birds. The refuge is on the Virginia end of Assateague Island and includes more than 14,000 acres (5,666 hectares) of beach, dunes, marsh and maritime forest.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Duane Hymas, Share the Experience)
The 20th Annual Birdfest and Bluegrass Celebration, along the lower Columbia River, offers guided bus tours, Audubon bird shows, live music, arts and crafts, and activities at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Native American structure found in the old town of Cathlapotle within the Carty Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Ann Hubard, Share the Experience)
Save the date for 31st annual "Ding" Darling Day. Enjoy a week of fun-filled and informative programs, bird walks, tours, paddling, all-free refuge tram tours and family activities at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel. Look for anhingas and try to spot the refuge's BIG 5 bird species during your visit. Download the free Ding Darling game app and play the Wildlife Drive trivia game! Be sure to share field tips, photos and record the birds you see.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (Steve Sinclair, Share the Experience)
Located in and around Harlingen, the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival includes field trip destinations to Laguna Atascosa and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges. Events include lectures, workshops, birding trips and other guided tours. Buses and minivans will transport festival-goers. Look for the great kiskadee, green jay, Altamira oriole and plain chachalaca.