If you’ve never attended a birding festival and wonder what all the fuss is about, here are 10 good reasons to try one.
1. New Birds. Most bird watchers state this as their primary reason for attending a festival and many festivals are built around the birding opportunities they offer. Some are even built around a single species, such as the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival in Michigan. I often pick a festival based on the life birds I might see. My recent trip to the Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival in Jamestown, North Dakota, netted my life LeConte’s sparrow!
2. New Habitat. It’s wonderful to immerse yourself in an entirely new habitat when going to a far-flung birding festival. Seeing new birds, animals, butterflies, and other natural wonders really adds to the “wow” factor of a festival trip. Right now my wife Julie and I are immersing ourselves in the Chiricahua Mountains as part of the Southwest Wings Birding Festival in Bisbee, Arizona. I’ll let you know if we see a trogon.
3. Optics and Gear. Festivals offer an excellent opportunity to see, sample, and purchase new products such as optics, field clothing, books, artwork, and other cool birding and nature-related products. Some festivals are as well known for their thriving retail marketplaces as they are for their local bird life.
4. Learn Stuff. Most birding festivals offer seminars, workshops, or presentations designed to inform you and make you a better bird watcher. I’m constantly surprised at the variety and quality of the offerings at the events I attend. More evidence that birding feeds your brain!
5. Group Birding. Bird watching with a group of people is not high on everyone’s list of favorite things to do, but I love it. There’s nothing better than having a group of 20 or more people having a good time in the field enjoying a great day of birding. Not comfy birding with strangers? Organize a festival trip for your own home bird club!
6. Economic Impact. Bird watching packs an underestimated and under-appreciated economic punch. The 100 people attending the New River Birding Festival in 2004 injected more than $100,000 into the local economy of Fayetteville, West Virginia. That’s a nice reason for more communities to encourage birding and ecotourism.
7. Conservation Impact. As the economic impact of bird watching and birding festivals grows, more communities and governments will realize that protecting habitat for birds is a smart thing to do. That’s always a good thing. Some festivals are asking attendees to hand out calling cards to local businesses to show the impact of visiting bird watchers on the local economy. Everyone comes to an appreciation of the natural world from a different direction. Show the local businesspeople that preserving habitat for birds pays!
8. Get Away from It All. Many BWD readers plan their annual vacations to include great birding spots and birding festivals. A good festival experience can be every bit as enriching and renewing as a week at summer camp (except at a birding festival, everyone is a bird watcher!).
9. Make New Friends. Some of our best bird-watching pals are folks that we’ve met at festivals. Sometimes they are local birders or festival volunteers, sometimes they are fellow presenters or field trip guides. But most often they are attendees from somewhere else that we never would have met if we hadn’t come together at the festival.
10. See More Birds, Have More Fun. The best reason for going to a birding festival really boils down to that simple statement. I hope to see you out there in some beautiful, birdy spot! I’ll be the one with the nametag that says “Bill from Ohio.”