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Flocking to bird festival

Birders look to the treetops for a feathered friend during an outing at a previous Festival of Birds. (Pippi Mayfield/Tribune)1 / 2
Minnesota wildlife artist Joe Hautman will make a presentation on the art of drawing and painting birds. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Every year during the third week of May, birders flock to the City of Detroit Lakes for the Festival of Birds.

Now in its 13th year, the festival has proved to be a favorite for all levels of birders, from first-timers to experienced trekkers.

"The 2010 theme is 'the science of birds,'" said Cleone Stewart, festival co-chair and director of tourism for the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce, which co-hosts the annual event along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The festival kicks off Thursday, May 20, by taking a look at the secrets of bird migration with Mike Murphy, retired U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manager. He will speak at the Holiday Inn.

In the words of Scott Wiedensaul, humans have been mesmerized by the sight of birds in flight. On Friday, May 21, author Carrol Henderson will provide insight into the art and science of how birds fly. The program will be presented at Fair Hills Resort.

Three-time winner of the Federal Duck Stamp contest, Joe Hautman will present the art of birds at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 22 at Minnesota State Community & Technical College (M State), which is also the official headquarters for the festival. Watch as Hautman demonstrates his drawing technique.

Hautmann will be followed by Charlie Walcott from Cornell University, who will discuss why birds sing at 2 p.m. Did you know the process of bird song learning is remarkably similar to the learning of speech by human infants? Many birds rely on a combination of inheriting their songs, as well as learning to develop their songs by hearing other males sing.

If you live by the lake and have heard loons calling throughout the night, you will especially appreciate Walcott's 3 p.m. presentation on what the three calls of the bird signify.

All of the afternoon presentations at M State are free. To conclude an education-packed day, keynote speaker Jeffrey Gordon packs fun into a learning experience by taking nominations from the attendees on categories such as "Best Bird Laugh" in the Bird Song Grammys, which are set for Saturday night.

"This is a fantastic lineup of well known birders, authors and professors from across the nation," Stewart said. "Walcott comes to the festival from Cornelle University in Ithaca, N.Y., while Gordon will be flying in from Delaware."

Six additional workshops -- including a free session on building birdhouses -- as well as a host of exhibitors and three socials for festival attendees, will be held at M State.

"This year all events at our headquarters, M State, will be in the new Student Life Center, the commons on the east side of the building," said Stewart. "The open, modern look is a plus as a new venue for the festival socials, exhibitors, silent auction, registration and the free workshops in the adjoining classroom.

"Plus, the parking lot is nice and roomy for coach buses loading for field trips, and has plenty of parking for attendees," she added.

Another draw for birders to attend the annual festival is, of course, the field trips, Stewart noted.

Tallgrass prairie, hardwood forests and conifer forests all converge in the Detroit Lakes area, providing habitat for more than 275 species of birds -- and making it a truly unique birding destination.

Nearly 200 species are recorded annually at the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds, including many "life birds" that people travel specifically to the Detroit Lakes festival to see.

The festival offers more than 10 field trips with experienced birders and naturalists, drawing birders from across the U.S. and Canada for a rewarding birding adventure.

"Besides including consistently stellar birding sites such as Hamden Slough and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge near Detroit Lakes, we continually add new sites for field trips," Stewart said. "This provides a reason for festival attendees to return year after year."

One of those new destinations this year is Manston Slough near Barnesville, "a 6.5-square mile wildlife habitat project restoring a partially drained wetland located on the old lake bed of historic Lake Agassiz, that should be a prime stopover for migrating shorebirds," she added.

M State is located at 900 Highway 34 East. The entire festival program and registration information are available online at the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce website, (under Things to Do, Events).

You can also call the Chamber at 800-542-3992, or pick up a free brochure at the Chamber offices, located at 700 Summit Ave., adjacent to the Becker County Museum and the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454