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Canceled birding festivals, conservation groups need your support

canceled birding festivals
Bald Eagle. Photo by Tony Joyce

Our regularly updated list of canceled birding festivals shows that at least 36 birding events between now and mid-May have been called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More are sure to follow.

Birding festivals are organized locally, often by nonprofit groups. In addition, they may raise funds for local conservation organizations. A canceled event, especially late in the planning process, often means tens of thousands of dollars of lost revenue.

Brian W. Bodah, an organizer with the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello, Washington, says the nonprofit event would have been about $10,000 in the hole due to its cancelation. “Everything had been arranged, deposits put down, and many checks were cut prior to this decision,” he says. “We have completely wiped out the bank account and will definitely be in the red once all is said and done.”

But, Bodah says, “we have had a TREMENDOUS response from people who bought tickets. Many, many of them have decided to donate their ticket purchase to our festival and have asked us not to send them a refund, and it is amazing! We’re hopeful to make up that fiscal shortfall once all is tallied and work with the City of Othello to ensure that this completely nonprofit festival can go on in 2021 and beyond.”

The festival is Othello’s largest annual event, and the town’s mayor, Shawn Logan, said “It simply cannot end, it must go on in 2021 and beyond.” I’m sure his counterparts in the many other locations where festival won’t happen this year would agree.

Similarly, in the announcement of the cancelation of the Biggest Week in American Birding, organizers with the Black Swamp Bird Observatory thanked their many sponsors who told the observatory to keep their sponsorship funds. “We’re not sure anyone can fully understand the weight of the magnitude of this decision and its impact to thousands of people, to the NW Ohio business community, and to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory mission. Our staff is heartbroken. It’s as if we spent an entire year creating a masterpiece that we’re now unable to share with people. But share it we will! With all the work that’s been done for this year, we will be so far ahead of the game next year that there’s no doubt that the 2021 Biggest Week In American Birding will be the BEST EVER!”

All of this is to say that we, the birding public, can and should help. If you were registered for an event that has been canceled, please consider donating the registration fee to the organizers, and if you were planning to book a hotel room or eat in local restaurants, then please consider giving all or part of those funds to a local, state, or national conservation group — preferably the organization tied to the canceled festival, if applicable.

If you were not planning to go to a festival this year, and if you have the means, then please help a conservation group. Birders are among the most generous people I know. In these dire times for the economy, don’t forget our friends in the conservation community.

National or international bird conservation groups worth supporting

American Bird Conservancy

Bird Canada


Center for Biological Diversity

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Earth Justice

Fundación ProAves

International Bird Rescue

International Crane Foundation

National Audubon Society

National Wildlife Federation

Nature Conservancy

Sierra Club

Wild Ones

World Migratory Bird Day

Too numerous to list: State, provincial, or local bird clubs, Audubon chapters, and bird observatories.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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