Arizona is well known as one of the best places in the United States to look for birds, ranking in the top three according to an article published in USA Today. The article quoted a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey which showed more than a million people came to Arizona in 2006 to bird watch, spending nearly a billion dollars in the process. That fiscal cliff-sized expenditure represented about 8% of total U.S. spending on birding that year, boosting state revenue, as well. Many of those visitors come for one or more of the state’s annual birding festivals, which feature field trips, workshops, lectures and nationally-known speakers and leaders. Among the many benefits of living in Arizona is the opportunity to attend these festivals without having to buy a plane ticket.
Give or take, there are ten festivals in the state worth attending, ranging from one-day informational booths and tours to multi-day festivals featuring 50 or more events. Some are new arrivals, while a couple have been in place 20 years or more. Information about ten of these follows. If any of these interest you, it’s important to plan ahead. Many popular field trips and events, especially those involving well-known experts, often sell out far in advance. Note that all dates listed are for 2013.
Wings Over Willcox (January 16-20). Registration for this hugely popular festival begins on September 1, and as I write this in early December, 23 of 53 events have sold out. However, more than half of the events are still available, from birding tours to photography classes to wine-tasting tours. Ken Kaufman is the keynote speaker. Birdlife around Willcox is varied and productive, but the signature highlight of the festival is thousands of Sandhill Cranes that winter nearby.
Southwest Wings Birding Festival (July 31-August 3), Sierra Vista. This will be the 21st annual SW Wings festival, which features hummingbird-rich canyon sites, Elegant Trogons and a wide range of nearby habitat.
Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival (August 14-18). Only in its third year, this event, sponsored by the Tucson Audubon Society, features many well-known birders and is especially convenient to SaddleBrooke.
Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival (April 25-28), Cottonwood. Centered in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, this popular festival is in its 13th year. The late April timing coincides with peaking spring migration.
Yuma Birding and Nature Festival (April 18-20). Note the dates and programs are tentative, and that last year’s festival was canceled due to budget issues.
Sedona Hummingbird Festival (August 2-4). In its second year and timed to coincide with peak hummingbird activity, this festival features presentations by hummingbird experts in science, gardening, photography and more.
Tres Rios Nature and Earth Festival (March 9-10), Goodyear. This festival takes place in Estrella Mountain Regional Park, where the Salt and Agua Fria Rivers join the Gila River. If water means good birding, what could be better than a three-river confluence?
Three other one to two-day events are worth considering: The Nina Mason Pullian Rio Salado Audubon Center’s Migration Celebration (April 13-14), Phoenix; the San Pedro Spring Festival at Sierra Vista (May 4) and the Feathered Friends Festival (March 23), Gilbert Water Ranch.
Registration and event fees range from free to expensive, but one can often pick and choose only those events of interest. Early registration for the multi-day festivals is critical to insure participation in popular events. Detailed information can be obtained by searching the Internet using the festival name. If you are interested in birds and birding, attending a festival is a great way to expand your expertise and have fun in the process. And if you live in Arizona, you can get to any of these without an airport body scan.
(This article originally appeared in the January, 2013 issue of the Saddlebag Notes newspaper, Tucson, Arizona.)