Harney County Migratory Bird Festival – USA Festivals


Burns High School and Harney County Chamber of Commerce office

Early April


Covering 10,226 square miles but with a population of about 7,500 people, Southeast Oregon’s Harney County is the state’s largest county and the county with the lowest population density. It is also home to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most venerated birdwatching areas in the West, along with numerous other outstanding birding sites. The county includes agrarian valleys and shallow wetlands in and around the refuge and near the county seat of Burns, these vast areas in total serving as a major migration stop for myriad bird species and an important nesting region for many more.

Harney County Migratory Bird Festival – USA Festivals Photo Gallery

Birding enthusiasts come from throughout the nation to visit Malheur and the other hotspots in Harney County, and the Burns-based Harney County Chamber of Commerce throws a terrific birding bash each spring in the form of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. The event occurs at a time when white geese—snow geese and their smaller but nearly identical cousins, Ross’s geese—are staging by the thousands in the area, providing a spectacle for birders. The sight of several thousand white geese with black wingtips taking flight in unison is surreal. Likewise, the county wetlands and fields fill with a variety of other species—ducks of numerous kinds, other species of geese, shorebirds, Sandhill cranes, and more.

The festival begins on Thursday evening at the Chamber of Commerce in Downtown Burns, with a meet-and-greet event for attendees to mingle with festival tour leaders, authors, and organizers. But the festival headquarters is actually Burns High School, where the gymnasium houses vendors, including artists, photographers, birding and conservation organizations, and more. On Friday and Saturday, birding tours (register online in advance) leave from the high school first thing in the morning, heading out to a variety of locations near and far—Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the east side of Steens Mountain, Silvies Valley, and other hotspots. Each tour is led by expert birders who know the area well. The tours arrive back at the high school late in the afternoon, and the vendor show remains open into the evenings. Saturday evening culminates with a speaker dinner program (tickets available in advance). Tour locations, prices, and details are listed on the event website early each spring. Burns and conjoined Hines offer about half a dozen hotels, but reserve a room early, as several hundred people usually attend the festival; visit the chamber website, www.harneycounty.com for lodging information and other local details.

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