Greater Prairie Chickens on the lek during Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds

Detroit Lakes Festival Of Birds May 16-18, 2024

Detroit Lakes is nestled in the heart of a transition zone between tall grass prairie, northern hardwood and conifer forest ecosystems. That means there are lots of kinds of birds! Which, in turn, means a lot of serious birders flocking here each spring for the annual Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds.

The 27th annual Festival of Birds is planned for May 16-18, 2024.

The 26th annual Festival of Birds was held May 18-20, 2023 in Detroit Lakes MN. Early-bird registrant Jim Chliboyko of Winnipeg, Manitoba took home a Votex 8 x 42 binocular.

Event fee for all registrants: $15 full festival; $10/day. Event fee free for students ages 18 and younger.

Thursday, May 18, 4:30 pm-6:30 pm, 104 West Lake Drive, Detroit Lakes: The festival kicks off with an hors d’ oeuvres social and bird trivia at Hub 41’s upper level across from the Detroit Lakes City Beach. Get some of the best views of the City Beach and Little Detroit Lake from the second level outdoor deck at Hub 41. Visit with friends, make some new ones and get ready for some all-around giggles. Cash bar available. Please join us at Hub 41 for food and fun feathered trivia! Fee: $20/person.

Friday, May 19, 5:30 am-Noon: Field trip to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge OR Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Arrive at site by 5:30 am.
Registrants will drive to refuge location with their vehicle, carpooling encouraged. Please bring your own beverage/snacks. Be prepared with waterproof footwear. Pit toilets available on arrival at Hamden Slough Refuge. Tamarac Visitor Center restrooms open upon arrival and 1-2 stops on field trip with pit toilets open. Field trips will take place if rainfall is light or delay the start at site until rainfall is lighter. Maps and contact cell numbers will be provided to registrants.
Fee: $25/person.
After either field trip, you’re invited to Tamarac Refuge for a lunch of pulled pork sandwich, salad, cookie and beverage at the refuge’s Discovery Center. Cost is $10 at the door, no advance registration needed. Serving begins at 11:30 am. You may grab and go or eat in. Hosted by Friends of Tamarac. 

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge
35704 County Hwy 26, Rochert MN 56578
You drive to Tamarac Refuge for this field trip so carpooling is encouraged. Meet at the Refuge Visitor Center Parking Lot, to carpool to sites from there. Pick up your directional map with cell phone contact at the Detroit Lakes Chamber before Friday morning.
The pristine woodlands of Tamarac Refuge is host to 25 species of warblers including the Golden-winged Warbler. Nearly 43,000 acres make up this premier bird refuge of Northwestern Minnesota. We’ll guide you through the mosaic of habitats including pine and hardwood forests, lakes, rivers, marshes and brushy grasslands. You’ll trek into key sections of the refuge for the best views including lake edges where warblers congregate. Sturdy boots or knee high rubber boots are recommended for the short hikes through grassy trails. The refuge has a bird list of 258 species, so there will be plenty of feathered friends to see here. Birds we’ll be looking for:  American Woodcock, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, vireos, 25 species of warblers including Golden-winged, Solitary Sandpiper, Trumpeter Swans, Ruffed Grouse, nesting Bald Eagles and Common Loons.  
After the field trip the Friends of Tamarac invite you to a lunch of pulled pork sandwich, salad, cookie and beverage at the refuge’s Discovery Center for $10 beginning at 11:30 am. You may grab and go or eat in. Pay $10 at the door, no advance registration.  

Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge:
Google maps: 21212 210th Street, Audubon MN 56511
Apple maps: 21212 210th Street, Detroit Lakes MN 56501
You drive to Hamden Slough Refuge, carpooling encouraged. Meet at the Hamden Slough Refuge Education Building Parking Lot at 5:30 am. Pick up your Hamden directional map with cell phone contact at the Detroit Lakes Chamber Office before Friday morning.
Come experience the dynamic prairie-wetland-woodland habitats of Hamden Slough NWR! Birders will split into two groups and carpool/caravan to birding spots. All birders will wake up to the Greater Prairie Chickens booming on the refuge lek while Bobolinks call from the grasslands. Time permitting, we’ll pursue the elusive LeConte’s sparrow in one of the Refuge’s wetter prairies. Make sure you have sturdy waterproof boots for hiking off-trail. Attendees will visit grassland, wetland and oak savanna sites managed using grazing, haying, fire and water level manipulation. Oak savannas are found just south and east of the refuge as the land transitions from prairie to forest. We’ll stop at an oak savanna where we’ve completed a 5-year rotational grazing project to improve habitat for prairie and woodland birds alike. We’ll also venture to an old willow swamp which always produces bird species not common on the prairies like Cape May, Magnolia and Orange-crowned Warblers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Flycatchers, and more! Birds we’ll be looking for: Greater Prairie Chickens, Bobolinks, Western Meadowlarks, Sandhill Cranes, Clay Colored and Savanna Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Marbled Godwits, Greater Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Pectoral and Solitary Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and a variety of waterfowl and other shorebirds.

Friday, May 19, 5:00 pm-7:00 pm
53014 State Hwy 34, Osage MN 56570
You will drive to this event, so carpooling is encouraged. Pick up a directional map at the Detroit Lakes Chamber Office before the event.
Please join us for an evening buffet at Jack Pines Resort followed by Carrol Henderson’s presentation.
Our buffet at Jack Pines Resort includes cavatappi pasta bake with sausage in a marinara red sauce or multi-vegetable sauce for vegetarians, green salad with toppings, bread stick, water, coffee, lemonade and assorted desserts. Cash bar available. Fee: $37/person. Maps with directions will be provided.
Carrol and his wife Ethelle have been leading wildlife tours to Latin America since 1987. They have explored countries from Guatemala, Cuba and Costa Rica south to the southern tip of South America. While much effort has been focused on birds, Carrol has taken thousands of tropical butterfly and moth photos. His photo collection has been consolidated into his new presentation, “Pollinators in Paradise: Butterflies and Moths of the American Tropics.”
The program includes stunning images of butterflies like the iridescent blue morpho and distinctive “owl butterfly”. Featured butterflies in the American tropics include cracker butterflies, daggerwings, skippers, swallowtails and silk moths. He has incorporated stories of the butterflies including their ecology, species diversity, camouflage, host and nectar plants, mimicry complexes, warning colors and “chemical warfare” defenses against bird predation. 
Carrol Henderson was the assistant manager for the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Refuge from 1974-1976 and the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor from 1977-2018. During that 44-year career he worked on projects for trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, river otters, common terns, bald eagles and many other wildlife species. He is the author of 13 books. Since retiring in 2018 he has helped promote “Get the Lead Out” of ammunition and fishing tackle so it does not poison loons, bald eagles and expose deer hunters and their families to lead bullet fragments in their venison. He serves as conservation chair for the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, is on the Boards of The National Loon Center and The Trumpeter Swan Society.

Saturday, May 20, 5:30 am-Noon: Field trip to Maplewood State Park OR Agassiz Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA)
Trips will be by coach bus (with restroom) by meeting at M State College’s western parking lot, 900 East Hwy 34, Detroit Lakes by 5:30 am sharp. Fee: $53/person. Be prepared with waterproof footwear and clothing to layer for rain and changing temps.
Upon return, we invite you to a lunch and a presentation on loons at the college. Visit exhibitors at the birders bazaar until 3:30 pm. Bid on some amazing birdy bargains and souvenirs at the silent auction until 3:00 pm.

Maplewood State Park: Established in 1963, Maplewood State Park’s 9,250 acres is located between the state’s eastern broadleaf forests and western prairies. Maple sugaring is an annual tradition at Maplewood. The park is interspersed with numerous small lakes and marshes. The tree-covered hills offer striking vistas of small, clear lakes and colorful prairies. Hiking opportunities abound with over 20 miles of trails, some of which will be a few miles of walking on the well-established trails as well as extended hikes on rustic trails. On this trip leaders will highlight how to identify warblers by ear. The spring woodland wildflowers are especially amazing in the park this time of year and we hope to see bloodroot, trillium, sharp-lobed hepatica and large-flowered bellwort. There are over 150 bird species known to be breeding in the park.  Birds we’ll be looking for:  Yellow-throated, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Yellow and Golden-winged Warblers, Warbling Vireo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, Orioles, Eastern Phoebe, Great-crested and Least Flycatchers, Boblolink, Sparrows including Chipping, Clay-colored, Song, Field and Chipping, Great Egret, Green Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, woodpeckers including Pileated, Sandhill Crane and Indigo Bunting.

Agassiz Dunes SNA: 40,000 years ago, the mighty glacial lake Agassiz pushed vast amounts of sand and gravel along its shores. When the lake receded and the glaciers melted, they deposited a unique and strange habitat along what is now known as the glacial ridge. This trip will travel along the old shore and sandy dunes where some of the last dry prairies remain and where many unique bird species are found. In addition, there are several State Wildlife Management areas nearby we may select from to bird. Bring waterproof footwear in the event of areas with standing water. Birds we’ll be looking for: Greater Prairie Chickens, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, Sandhill Cranes, a myriad of spring migrating warblers, Clay Colored, Vesper, Field, Song and Chipping Sparrows, Marbled Godwits, Greater Yellowlegs and additional shorebirds and waterfowl. We could also see a LeConte’s Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Vireo, Sedge Wren and Trumpeter Swans. In addition, the rare Poweshiek Skipperling butterfly has been seen in the area

Saturday, May 20, 12:15 pm-1:30 pm: Join us when you return from your morning field trip for a Lunch and Learn presentation on loons by Steve Maanum at M State’s Conference Center. Fee: $15/person.

Grab your boxed lunch and head to the Conference Center with a cup of chicken wild rice soup (Vegetarian: broccoli cheese soup), half sandwich with turkey/white cheddar cheese/lettuce/tomato on cranberry wild rice bread (Vegetarian: veggie sandwich on gluten-free bread), pickle, chocolate chip cookie, coffee or water.

“Loons – A History of a Minnesota Icon” with Steve Maanum. As a retired educator, Steve combined his classroom lessons with hands-on outdoor activities to help his students experience nature first-hand. He continues to help others make nature connections through his nature photography workshops, writing and presentations. Since the Common Loon has been a favorite subject for his writing and photography, he became a loon volunteer on Minnesota’s Big Mantrap Lake where he helps collect data and document loon behavior. The lake has been a USGS location for capturing loons and for film crews from National Geographic and Smithsonian! Join Steve as he takes you on a photographic journey through the daily habits and behaviors of loons and explains Mantrap Lake’s very successful loon management project. Steve will also touch on current research aimed at ensuring the safety and future of Minnesota’s beloved state bird.

NOTE change in Lunch and Learn presenter: Dr. Jennifer Sweatman has been called to teach a Tropical Ecology course in Belize for the month of May, so will not be able to present Bird I.D. at the Festival of Birds.

Saturday, May 20, Noon-3:30 pm: Visit exhibitor booths and the silent auction (until 3:00 pm) to snag some birdy bargains. Located in the lobby area outside the Conference Center of M State College’s western campus. Admission: Free.   

Saturday, May 20, 4:45 pm-7:00 pm: Join your fellow birders at M State College’s Conference Center, 900 Hwy 34 East in Detroit Lakes. Marshall Johnson’s presentation follows the buffet of chicken marsala (chicken breast with a creamy marsala mushroom sauce), garlic mashed potatoes, glazed baby carrots, green salad, bread, assorted bars, coffee or water. Vegetarian: stuffed pepper with wild rice in a tomato sauce. Fee: $37/person.

Flight Plan 2050: The Global effort to preserve Birds of the Americas” with Marshall Johnson.
What can we do to help birds? Find out in this captivating presentation how each of us can play a role in providing what benefits bird populations.
Right now, birds of the Western Hemisphere are facing catastrophic threats to their survival. Since 1970, more than 3 billion birds or 30% of North America’s bird populations have been lost to a myriad of challenges. Climate change looms as a real threat which could drive over 360 species to the brink of extinction! In response, Audubon and partners have developed Flight Plan 2050, a global effort aimed at mobilizing millions of bird lovers across the hemisphere to protect, restore and conserve the most vital habitats for birds. The key objective: reverse the declining bird trend line by 2050. This presentation gives us hope for a future where birds may thrive and ways we can help the effort. Join us to find out how to help!

Marshall Johnson serves as Audubon’s Chief Conservation Officer, overseeing its conservation strategies of Water, Coasts, Climate and Bird-friendly Communities, as well as its Science, Audubon Americas, Field and Network teams. Marshall leads strategic direction for hemispheric-wide conservation work at Audubon, addressing climate change and biodiversity crises facing birds.
He previously served as Vice President for Audubon Dakotas where he raised more than $50 million, spearheading the development and launch of the Northern Great Plains Grasslands project, which has conserved nearly 500,000 acres across the Dakotas, enrolling over 300 farmers, ranchers and communities. Marshall also served as Vice President of Audubon’s Conservation Ranching (ACR) Initiative, now America’s largest regenerative, bird-friendly land certification, spanning more than 3.5 million acres across 16 states. Marshall led the creation of the Urban Woods & Prairies Initiative which has created over 36 new nature parks across North Dakota, creating safe passage for migratory birds, while returning over 2,000 acres back to nature and increasing recreational access and ecosystem services across 5 communities.

2023 Field Trip Checklists
Hamden Slough topped off species at 100, followed by Tamarac Refuge at 99. Friday morning temps were in the high 30’s and windy, resulting in fewer species:
Friday, May 19, 2023 Hamden Slough Refuge checklist
Friday, May 19, 2023 Tamarac Refuge checklist
Saturday, May 20, 2023 Maplewood State Park checklist
Saturday, May 20, 2023 Agassiz Dunes SNA checklist
2023 Checklist of Birds Recorded on Field Trips

Festival attendees throughout the years have learned much about birds, wildlife and the environment through presenters such as John Fitzpatrick, John Marzluff, Joel Greenberg, Melissa Groo, Rosalind Renfrew, Sue Leaf, Drew Wheelan, Charlie Walcott, Richard Crossley, Scott Wiedensaul, David Sibley, Bill Thompson III, Laura Erickson, Don and Lillian Stokes, Kenn Kaufmann, Dr. Paul Johnsgard, Stan Tekiela, Dr. James Grier, Sharon Stiteler, Al Batt, Jeff Gordon, Joe Hautman, Jeb Barzen, Ernesto Reyes, Noah Strycker, Lyanda Haupt, Kevin Karlson, Randy Kolka, Mike Havlik, Steve Maanum and Marshall Johnson.

If you would like to receive future Festival of Birds email updates, please contact us at or call 218-847-9202. For updates, “like” us on facebook. Enjoy our small town hospitality while in Detroit Lakes, including several lodging options.

In recent years, birders have checked these species off their list: Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Rough-legged Hawk, LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Golden-winged and Northern Parula Warblers, Alder Flycatcher, Greater Prairie Chicken and Black-backed Woodpecker.

Any time of year, we welcome you to check out several sites along the Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail that are near Detroit Lakes. For more birding opportunities in Minnesota, see the MOU website.

Everywhere you go in Detroit Lakes’ bird paradise, you’re guaranteed to see birds to check off your bird list. We welcome you to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Happy birding! 


May. 16, 2024

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