6 mins

Take flight: 9 international birding festivals that are guaranteed to get you twitching

Spot some of the world’s extraordinary birds at these birdwatching events dedicated to conserving, protecting and celebrating this most diverse and vital species.

Western Sandpipers flying in front of the sun (Shutterstock)

1. Batumi Birdwatching Festival, Georgia

Steppe Buzzard in flight (Shutterstock)

Steppe Buzzard in flight (Shutterstock)

If you love your raptors, this is the festival for you. This part of Georgia acts as a bottleneck for the species migrating south during the autumn. When conditions are right on this narrow coastal flyway, the number of raptors passing watch points can push 100,000.

The festival is held in Adjara on Georgia’s Black Sea coast and takes place every September. That’s during peak migration for Steppe Buzzard and Eagles (including Lesser Spotted eagles) and there are plenty of Honey Buzzards, Kites, Falcons and Harriers as well.

The festival is part of the Annual Batumi Raptor Count that stretches from August to October. If you’re keen to take part, organisers can arrange for you to stay with local families and supply you with what you need to help out.

More information: batumiraptorcount.org

2. Indian Birding Fair, Jaipur

Birds gathered in front of the Jal Mahal (Shutterstock)

Birds gathered in front of the Jal Mahal (Shutterstock)

The Indian Birding Fair is held every February at Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur and is as colourful and exciting as the city itself. Thousands of birdwatchers from around India and the world descend upon the lake, a popular migratory spot for waders.

The festival is organised by the Tourism and Wildlife Society of India and is just as much about conservation and education as it is about ticking off rare, exotic species. Each year the festival focuses on a particular species – in 2019 it was the conservation of waders, in 2021 it was butterflies. And last year alone, over 1500 school children attended the event.

For international birders, the fair offers the chance to experience birdwatching in a totally unique environment – in the shadow of the lake’s famous water palace, the Jal Mahal.

More information: birdfair.org

3. Eilat Birds Festival, Israel

Greater Flamingos flying above in the salt ponds of Eilat (Shutterstock)

Greater Flamingos flying above in the salt ponds of Eilat (Shutterstock)

The Eilat Birds Festival is regarded as one of the most significant events on the international birdwatching calendar. Held during the peak of the spring migration in southern Israel, the birds are plentiful, the weather is great and there are more than enough activities to keep even the most demanding birdwatcher happy.

The festival is organised by the Israel Ornithological Centre of the SPNI. The weeklong event includes day and night birding tours like the unforgettable ‘Stars of the Night’ tour to the Dead Sea, presentations by local and international experts and the chance to spot all the birds that this region is famous for.

More information: birds.org.il

4. Kakadu Bird Week, Australia

A jabiru wading in the Yellow River in Kakadu National Park (Shutterstock)

A jabiru wading in the Yellow River in Kakadu National Park (Shutterstock)

Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Top End is home to more than a third of Australia’s bird species. It’s a bird lover’s paradise. And the perfect location for Australia’s premier birding event, Kakadu Bird Week.

Bird Week is held over the last week of September. Visitors are treated to specialist lectures, cultural events and, arguably, Australia’s best birdwatching. There are birdwatching tours to each of the park’s distinct habitats, including the dramatic sandstone escarpments, the croc-infested rivers, and the wetlands and billabongs where birds gather in their thousands.

Local aboriginal artists are also on hand to teach you traditional painting techniques should you want to immortalise your encounter on something other than film, or maybe carve a cockatoo as well as take its photo.

More information: parksaustralia.gov.au

5. British Bird Fair, Rutland Water, UK

Cormorant in flight at Rutland Water Nature Reserve (Shutterstock)

Cormorant in flight at Rutland Water Nature Reserve (Shutterstock)

This is the big one. The birdwatching Glastonbury by which all other bird fairs are judged. Part celebration, part participation, part commercial bazaar, this is where you’ll find everything you want to know about birdwatching gear, birdwatching tours and birdwatching personalities.

Held every August on Rutland Water Nature Reserve, it’s also one of the best birdwatching spots in the UK. This network of lagoons and wetlands, joined by meadows, hedgerows and woodlands, is literally bursting with birdlife.

Keep an eye out for Bill Oddie. He’s often wandering around the stalls, binoculars at the ready. And Chris Packham too. Given half the chance he’ll chew your ear off about why grouse hunting needs to be banned.

More information: birdfair.org.uk

6. Feria Internacional de Aves de Colombia, Cali

Red-headed barbet feeding in Cali (Shutterstock)

Red-headed barbet feeding in Cali (Shutterstock)

Colombia has the highest avian diversity in the world, so it should come as no surprise that one of the newest and most exciting events on the international birdwatching calendar is the Feria Internacional de Aves de Colombia, the Colombia Bird Fair.

The fair is held in Cali, Colombia’s very own ‘City of Birds’. Sitting at the crossroads of three major biogeographic regions, Cali is home to 562 species of birds, more than the whole of Europe.

As Colombia rebuilds itself after decades of civil war, the government has realised the importance of conserving Colombia’s unique ecosystems. Cali’s bird fair is seen as an essential part of that drive, promoting birdwatching and encouraging conservation.

More information: colombiabirdfair.com

7. Sagres Birdwatching Festival

Birdwatching in Sagres (Shutterstock)

Birdwatching in Sagres (Shutterstock)

The Sagres Birdwatching Festival is the biggest nature event in Portugal. Timed to coincide with the autumn migration, it is a celebration of the area’s biodiversity and landscapes – and the chance to see some exciting bird species as they pass by this part of southwest Europe.

The festival program includes field trips, boat tours, workshops, talks, environmental education activities and bird ringing sessions. There’s also a chance to explore the fantastic local culture, especially the incredible food and wine.

More information: birdwatchingsagres.com

8. Borneo Bird Festival, Sabah

A Black-Crowned Pitta in Sabah  (Shutterstock)

A Black-Crowned Pitta in Sabah (Shutterstock)

The Borneo Bird Festival is a celebration of the magnificent birds of Borneo. It is held in the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sandakan and with twitchers coming from all over the world to spot some of the most spectacular birds on the planet.

The festival was created to raise public awareness about bird conservation, promote birdwatching in the region, and showcase the 568 bird species that call this part of Borneo home, including four that are found nowhere else in the world.

Expect talks, guided bird walks, a bird race and a bird-watching competition. How many Bornean Bristleheads, Bornean Falconets and Black-Crowned Pittas will you see?

More information: Borneo Bird Festival Facebook page

9. Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, USA

A Green Jay in the Rio Grande Valley (Shutterstock)

A Green Jay in the Rio Grande Valley (Shutterstock)

Mention the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival to an American birdwatcher and they’ll give you a knowing smile. It’s the festival where twitchers go to catch up with old friends, swap tales and compare photos. It’s more a fiesta, than a festival, they’ll tell you, and why the second week in November is always circled on their calendars.

There’s a massive trade fair, of course. As well as presentations and lectures and a hoe down or two. But there are plenty of birds too. In 2019, 278 different species were sighted, from Swamp Sparrows to Morelet's Seedeaters.

Be warned: It’s not unknown for attendees to organise impromptu bird watching trips, south of the border, after a few tequilas around the campfire with birdwatching buds. This is definitely a birding festival for the more adventurous at heart.

More information: rgvbf.org

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