Winter Wings: Birders Flock to Klamath

It is the Klamath Basin Audubon’s Winter Wings Festival, a celebration of the thousands of eagles, hawks, swans, geese, and other waterfowl that flock to our area every winter. This incredible concentration of wildlife is literally viewed from all our backyards. Upper Klamath Lake, Link River, Lake Ewauna, Miller Island, and all the USFWS National Wildlife Refuges surrounding Klamath are some of the most renowned hotspots to view this winter spectacle.

Do you know what premier winter event has been in the Klamath Basin for 41 years?

It is the Klamath Basin Audubon’s Winter Wings Festival, a celebration of the thousands of eagles, hawks, swans, geese, and other waterfowl that flock to our area every winter. This incredible concentration of wildlife is literally viewed from all our backyards. Upper Klamath Lake, Link River, Lake Ewauna, Miller Island, and all the USFWS National Wildlife Refuges surrounding Klamath are some of the most renowned hotspots to view this winter spectacle.

The Winter Wings Festival had an unusual beginning, prompted by the plight of Bald Eagles in the 1970’s. With help from the Portland and Eugene Audubon chapters and the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges, the first Bald Eagle Conference was held in Klamath Falls in 1980. Professionals and conservationists discussed how to maintain the Bald Eagle’s habitat consistent with the politics of the day and the economy of the area. The Klamath Basin Audubon Society (KBAS) began sponsoring the Bald Eagle Conference in 1984, which continued annually until in 2005 it was expanded and renamed the Winter Wings Festival. KBAS continues to produce the Winter Wings Festival, which is the primary source of funds for Klamath Audubon to funnel back into the local community. KBAS grants for projects create opportunities for people of all ages to experience and appreciate our region’s spectacular natural resources (See sidebar for details).

The Festival draws hundreds of visitors from all over the country throughout Presidents’ Day weekend, February 13-16, 2020. Headquartered at the Oregon Tech campus, festival activities take place in the city of Klamath Falls and around the Klamath Basin.

But this weekend isn’t just for tourists. There are many ways residents in the Klamath Basin can participate, such as though a Basin-wide Youth Art Show and Contest hosted by the Festival. You’ll be amazed by the wonderful bird artwork created by local young artists. On Friday and Saturday you can meet talented artists, photographers, and local resource agency representatives in the vendor area at the Oregon Tech Student Union. Check out birding, camera, and optics sales products not available in local stores.

The festival organizers also use grant funds to bring free activities to local youth. The 2020 Festival will offer a new free cartoon bird sketching class for 150 children. There will be a free performance by West Coast Falconry and their trained free flying raptors in Oregon Tech’s main auditorium, which seats 350. After the show, the birds and their handlers will join the always-popular hands-on kids’ activities. Christie Riggins, Klamath Falls City School’s After School Enrichment Program says, “I take my students to Winter Wings to experience the live performances, art exhibit, and other engaging offerings.  It’s educational, free, and always fun.”

Although the Festival emphasizes birding and nature photography, there are other activities that showcase our community and provide alternative experiences for non-birders and non-photographers. For example, this year there is a new tour of some of the agri-businesses in the Basin, including Gold Dust Farms and Skyline Brewery. The keynote presenter, Rosemary Mosco, will be teaching a fun Sip and Sketch class for adults at the Favell Museum. A visit to the studio of world class sculptor Stefan Savides is an opportunity not to be missed!

There is a wealth of information on the Program offerings and other details on the Festival website: www.WinterWingsFest.org. Registration for paid activities begins Sat. Dec.7th at 9 AM.

It takes over 100 volunteers to produce the Festival, which is known across the birding world for its excellent organization. The Festival welcomes new volunteers each year. Perks for volunteers include free keynotes and the chance to participate in myriad ways behind the scenes at the Festival. The Winter Wings Festival organizers take pride in the extensive network of local businesses, government entities, sponsors, and other collaborative partnerships that have kept the festival going and growing for over 40 years.

The Klamath Falls community supports and celebrates the uniqueness of the Klamath Basin highlighted by the Winter Wings Festival. Come join in the fun!

Dianna Samuels and Anne Wenner are the Coordinators for the Winter Wings Festival recognized by birding magazines as the oldest birding festival in the United States.

Written by Ann Wenner and Diana Samuels

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