22nd annual Horicon Marsh Bird Festival begins Thursday

May 6, 2019

HORICON – A migration celebration starts Thursday as the 22nd annual Horicon Marsh Bird Festival gets underway.

Four and a half days of family-friendly adventures await at one of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States.

Liz Herzmann, DNR wildlife conservation educator, expects 1,000 to 1,500 people to attend the event, which is the oldest bird festival in Wisconsin.

“The festival is for people of all ages and birding levels – from beginners to experts,” said Herzmann. “We have a packed schedule with many free activities and a small cost for others.”

The vast wetland is both a State Wildlife Area and a National Wildlife Refuge. Originally established as habitat for migrating and nesting ducks, it has since become a stopover for Canada Geese.

Today, the Horicon Marsh is increasingly recognized and managed as a wetland ecosystem for all of its plants and animals. It has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention and a Global Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy.

Herzmann said over the years, 306 species of birds have been sighted on this marsh. Typically, 150 to 170 species are spotted during the course of the festival.

“Because it’s been cooler this spring many of the songbirds are in central Illinois now,” said Herzmann. “But we are seeing more with each passing day because of the warm southern winds; peak migration is coming soon.”

Birders and outdoor enthusiasts are welcome to explore the festival by foot, boat, bus and bicycle.

For the early morning birder, “First Light Birding” offers a glimpse of the birds at sunrise. At sunset, a “Night Sounds” bus tour is offered. Throughout the festival, the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Marsh Haven Nature Center and Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center will be buzzing with interactive displays, programs, and opportunities for viewing birds at their observation areas.

Highlights this year include a keynote speech from Karla Bloem, director of the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota; the Live Birds of Prey program that introduces some of Wisconsin’s raptors through a photo presentation, mounted specimens and live birds; and a new Mother’s Day event called “Mom and Me, Dissecting Together,” where participants will discover what local owls are eating through hands-on pellet dissection.

The festival is a huge undertaking, according to Herzmann, and is run by many dedicated volunteers. Partners include Friends Of Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center, Horicon Marsh Boat Tours, Marsh Haven Nature Center, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

“The bird festival weekend really is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our area. People come from all over the country to experience and enjoy what we have right here in Horicon,” said Herzmann.

Many of the bus tours are filling up fast and pre-registration is required. Reservations must be made by Tuesday at noon.

A schedule of events for more information about bus and boat tours, bird hikes, kids programs, night hikes and more can be found at horiconmarshbirdclub.com.