Birding: a noun changed into a verb by adding ing, looking for birds.
Symposium: a meeting or conference for discussion or presentation of papers about some subject.
Put those three together and you have the Midwest Birding Symposium, a meeting for bird watchers in one of the Midwest states where birders go on field trips and look for birds, listen to programs about birds, watch movies and slide shows about birds, and talk, talk, talk, much of the time about birds and birding.
That’s a birding festival. But the Midwest is a birding festival with a difference, actually with more than one difference. To begin with, other birding festivals are annual events. The Midwest is every other year. The first was in 1989, the second was in 1991 and it’s been every other year since. The eleventh, which my wife and I attended, was last month.
Other birding festivals are always at the same location. Many are named for the location where they take place. There’s a Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival which is near Cape Canaveral on the east coast of Florida. There’s the San Diego Bird Festival, San Diego, California, the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Texas, the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, California, the Wings Over Wilcox Birding and Nature Festival, Wilcox, Arizona, and Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival.
The Midwest has not only been in different locations, it’s been in different states. The first and second were in Illinois, then it was in Michigan twice, then twice in Ohio, twice in Wisconsin, twice in Iowa and this year it was back to Ohio, back to the same location it had been ten years ago, a place by the shore of Lake Erie.
Many birding festivals, but not the Midwest, or many other birding festivals, have a special bird. Often the festival is named for this bird. There’s a Festival of the Cranes in New Mexico, south of Albuquerque, and the main attraction, the feathered star, is its thousands of sandhill cranes at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where they spend the winter. There’s the Whooping Crane Festival at Aransas, Texas, in winter when whooping cranes can be seen in and around the nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
The Kirtland Warbler Festival is in Michigan in summer when these rare warblers are nesting there. Visitors attending the festival are given a lecture about the Kirtland’s warbler, shown pictures, then guides lead them afield and show them Kirtland’s warblers in their nesting territories, singing.
There are bald eagle festivals in Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, along the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa, and in Texas. There’s a Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Alaska, the Warbler and Wildflower Festival in Maine, the Loon Festival in New Hampshire, Buzzard Sunday to observe and celebrate the return of turkey vultures in spring to Hinkley, Ohio.
Finally, it’s my impression that the Midwest Birding Symposium has a more varied program than other birding festivals. My wife and I have only been to a half dozen birding festivals, not enough to judge really. But at the latest Midwest we heard a presentation about the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, a paper about a rapidly declining species, the cerulean warbler, a program titled, Flights Against the Sunset: Why We Need Birds, and one giving the history of American birding, the men and women who were founders of this activity we call bird watching or birding.