Throughout the month of January, bird-lovers can celebrate the region's winged wonders through contests, tours, and more!

The Winter Wildlife Festival takes flight in Virginia Beach each year to celebrate the region's incredible birds. But with the ongoing pandemic, organizers had to re-think their approach for 2021. Lucky for us, one of the safest places you can be during COVID-19 is outdoors, which is why the 11th annual gathering will host in-person and virtual events. While the bulk of the festival takes place over a weekend, avian-themed activities will be held all month long at little to no cost. No park membership is required to join in on the fun!

When: January 28-January 31, 2021
Where: Locations across Virginia Beach, VA
Admission: Free, with some exceptions

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Courtesy of Virginia Beach Winter Wildlife (Facebook)

Coastal Virginia is full of ecological wonders, and bird-watchers can explore the region while participating in fun challenges. There's the Festival Birding Challenge, where groups of 2-5 can bird-watch competitively anywhere in the city, including their own backyards. It costs $15 to join, and like a 5K run, there'll be commemorative T-shirts and awards given to each division—enthusiasts can put their skills to the test with the 24-hour "Big Day" challenge!

Hobbyists can also congregate at local wildlife refuges for the "Big Sits." Bring your binoculars and identify local species with the help of a leader, who'll guide your attention to the loons, pelicans, gulls, and other species that inhabit the land. Whether you're an early bird or a night owl, just be sure to bundle up and BYOC (bring your own chair)!

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But this event isn't just for the birds! Naturalists can go on exciting excursions from whale-watching with Virginia Aquarium to identifying trees in their natural habitats.

The weekend's itinerary also features virtual events, including talks and workshops. There'll be a keynote speech from gull expert Amar Ayyash, as well as a ceremony for the recipient of the Mary Reid Barrow Wildlife Advocate Award. For the kids, the Virginia Beach Public Library's StoryWalk exhibit lets little ones explore parks through the lens of Marion Dane Bauer's adorable book Winter Dance.

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The Winter Wildlife Festival takes place at various locations in Virginia Beach from January 28 to January 31, 2021. Many of the activities are free, but some will come with minimal fees. You can find the event schedule here. In the meantime, check out the festival's new Facebook group for event information, or to chat with fellow birders. Birds of a feather flock together!

**Photos courtesy of Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation (Facebook)

Are you participating in the Winter Wildlife Festival this year? What's on your itinerary? Let us know in the comments!