A bird on the beach — Photo courtesy of Rusty Clark
Birds of a feather flock to the Space Coast in Florida.
It’s time for the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, the largest birding and wildlife festival in the nation.
We’re talking more than 275 different events and activities that draw visitors from around the world. Classes led by 20 world-class professional wildlife photographers. Plus, plenty of free, family-friendly activities.
For five of the past six years, this festival has received recognition by the Southeast Tourism Society for sparking economic development through travel and sustainable tourism.
This year’s 19th annual festival runs January 20-25 at the Eastern Florida State College’s Titusville Campus.
Peacocks on the Space Coast — Photo courtesy of Rusty Clark
It’s no surprise this mega event is held on the Space Coast, one of the nation’s top destinations for birdwatchers. As the Space Coast Birding website explains, the Space Coast’s ideal location on a major bird migration corridor means it’s home to more than 330 types of birds – thousands migrate here for the winter, and we don't mean snowbirds.
Add to that swamps, marshlands, rivers, lakes, mangroves and the sea. You can find beautiful pockets of untouched natural habitat even in cities, like Melbourne. All of this means plenty of feathered friends.
Birdwatching is the fastest-growing “passive sport” in the country, according to Space Coast Birding, and it’s nearly impossible to not participate in this region of Florida.
Hundreds of birds live on the Space Coast — Photo courtesy of Rusty Clark
At the annual birding and wildlife festival, visitors can sign up for educational classes to learn more about birds or taking photos of them. In fact, a highlight this year is a group of new classes taught by leading wildlife photographers.
Then, you can take field trips to put that knowledge into action. The Offshore Birding and Wildlife Adventures are exciting trips that take birders out into nature. Beyond birds, keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
Browse vendors from around the world, listen to keynote speakers, score special deals on gear and art. Or just sit back and relax and watch a raptor show on-site. Fair warning: space is limited for each show, and this free event tends to be popular. See various eagles, hawks, owls and falcons up close through The Raptor Project.
Beyond birds, festival-goers can see live bats, participate in a silent auction and browse an art show.
Highlights for kids include art-and-craft projects that center around birds and the third annual scavenger hunt. Kids “hunt” throughout the exhibit center for different bird photos randomly hidden at different booths.
Another popular freebie is the 30-minute one-on-one photo class with photographer Kevin Loughlin in the vendor area. Aspiring photographers who sign up for one of the slots can ask him specific questions about techniques or camera use.
The birding festival raises money for bird conservation — Photo courtesy of Rusty Clark
After the festival is over, the birding fun continues. Popular birder Greg Miller will embark on his Big Year Tour Series (birding trips across the country), which includes a stop in Florida.
And while you’re on the Space Coast, don’t miss the region’s points on the 2,000-mile-long Great Florida Birding Trail. Pick up a guide book to help you know where to look for birds. More than 40 trail sites are located in or near the Space Coast.
The trail is supported by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Transportation.
A portion of the festival registration costs will be donated to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, to pay for staff and support volunteers in bird conservation.