The birders are coming! After the 2020 event was cancelled due to state and federally-mandated COVID-19 safety restrictions, the Festival of Birds returns to Detroit Lakes on May 20-22.

Though the format will look a little different this year, birders from seven different states — North and South Dakota, Arizona, Connecticut and Virginia as well as Minnesota — are flocking to sign up for the festival's programs and field trips, according to Detroit Lakes Tourism Director Cleone Stewart.

"Our Tamarac field trip is already full," Stewart said. "We have a waiting list."

The trip to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is one of two scheduled for Friday, May 21; the other is a slightly longer trek, to the Felton Prairie. A second Felton Prairie trip is set for Saturday, May 22, along with an excursion to Hamden Slough.

"All of the field trips run from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m.," Stewart said. "We will give directions to the meeting spots as soon as people sign up."

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There will be no group bus excursions this year, according to Festival volunteer Kelly Blackledge; people need to bring their own vehicles to the meeting spots, though experienced birders have been lined up to guide all four trips.

Trip registration is limited to 25 people per excursion; upon arriving that the meeting spot, participants will be divided into two smaller groups, with a birding expert to guide each group. Participants must provide their own gear (binoculars, hiking boots, etc.).

"All our guides are experienced," Blackledge said, adding that they do a lot of advance scouting and research prior to the trip to determine where the best spots will be to see as many different species of birds as possible.

"People should be able to get some good looks (at birds)," Stewart said, adding that there hasn't been a lot of "leaf out" on the trees as yet due to the unusually cool spring weather thus far.

"The Chamber (of Commerce) will also have maps of birding 'hot spots' available if people want to do some more birding on their own," Blackledge said. "Those maps will be available anytime."

A half-dozen presentations from birding experts are also planned for the weekend, though all of them will be virtual this year.

"We did all our planning pretty early on," Stewart said, adding that COVID-19 restrictions on group gatherings and crowd size were still quite limited at that time.

Speaker presentations will take place as follows:

  • Thursday, May 20: Randy Kolka, Project Leader and Research Soil Scientist at the SPRUCE Climate Change Experiment, 8 a.m.; Kevin T. Karlson, accomplished birder, professional tour leader, wildlife photographer/instructor and author, 9:30 a.m.; naturalist Mike Havlik, 5 p.m. Kolka will be discussing climate change and its effects on wildlife habitats; Karlson will conduct a warbler identification workshop; and Havlik will help participants learn to identify different types of hawks from their flight patterns and behavior.
  • Friday, May 21: Kevin T. Karlson will provide the festival's keynote presentation at 5:30 p.m. Karlson's second presentation of the weekend will focus on "a photographic celebration of the hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures of North America," based on the content of the book "Birds of Prey," which Karlson co-authored with Pete Dunne.
  • Saturday, May 22: Humorist Al Batt closes out this year's festival with an hour-long virtual presentation starting at 5 p.m.

Unlike previous festivals, there will be a single, flat fee of $25 charged for participation in the 2021 Festival of Birds rather than ticketing for individual events.

"We wanted to be able to offer a good birding experience, but keep it affordable," said Stewart.

The registration deadline is Friday, May 14. Visit for more information.

If you go

What: Festival of Birds

When: Thursday through Saturday, May 20-22

Where: Detroit Lakes

Info: Cost is $25 per person; registration information available at or by phone at 218-847-9202. You can also pick up a registration form at the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce, 700 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes.