Colombia Birdfair is a massive event that brings hundreds of birders together to enjoy some of the best birding in the world. After attending and presenting at the fair for the first time in February 2023, a few things stood out to me as great additions to any birding event.
Below: Listen to an episode of Life List: A Birding Podcast that we recorded during the Colombia Birdfair
1. The festival headquarters is full of great birds (and more!)
Many US birding festivals are headquartered at a conference center or similar facility where participants go to register, attend classroom talks, and see exhibit areas. The Colombia Birdfair goes way beyond the basics: it’s headquartered at the impressive Cali Zoo right in the middle of the city!
The zoo grounds checked so many boxes for a great festival location—it had fantastic, unique rooms for lectures and workshops, space for a stellar exhibit area and a massive main stage, and Birdfair participants could enjoy the zoo exhibits as well as wild birds that were attracted to the natural habitat in the middle of the city. The combination of natural and landscaped areas set with Cali’s central buildings in the background gave off exciting vibes for the festival.
2. Multilingual options for birding workshops and field trips
When invited to speak at the BirdFair, my first question was if I would have to present in Spanish. Although I wish I could, I’m not proficient enough to speak for an hour in a language besides English. But the Colombia Birdfair has live translators for every presentation to open the audience to both English- and Spanish speakers. Headsets are offered for everyone who attends and wants to hear a translation. Questions and discussions are also translated so listeners can get the most out of the lectures and workshops.
Plus, many field trip guides were bilingual, and the Birdfair’s website offers text in English or Spanish.
Offering opportunities for speakers of multiple languages is a big step toward inclusivity at birding events. I noticed many Spanish speakers who were conversational or better in English still chose to listen to translated presentations when given the option. Giving a language choice is especially for educational presentations that use technical and specific vocabulary.
3. Promoting youth in birding was the standard, not an afterthought
Young birders were everywhere you looked at the Birdfair. Youth presented in big and small ways on the main stage (that was in an open area and easily heard from all across the vendor area and main festival grounds) throughout each day of the event. Most vendors were donating part of their sales to a youth birding initiative, and many were selling art or projects made by young birders in addition to their own products. Even some of the field trip destinations were also hubs for young birder education and youth guide training.
Supporting young birders is more than a feel-good afterthought for the Colombian birding scene. Young birders are being encouraged and valued in big ways that are leading to a diverse group of birders and conservationists throughout the country.
4. Field trips included privately-owned nature reserves
In addition to the typical types of birding field trip locations – national parks, nature reserves, and public areas – the Colombia Birdfair visited lots of privately-owned locations whose owners were committed to protecting birds. In many cases, the efforts of the landowners gave us great reasons to be there—like Doña Dora’s roadside-stop-turned-birding-mecca that the Birder’s Show considers some of the best backyard birding in the world.
The field trips included time to talk to the owners of these locations and hear the story of how they came to be in addition to enjoying the spectacular birding in the area.
Other field trips combined public and private land; one outing centered around a wetland reserve included a short boat ride for refreshments and great looks at Oriole Blackbirds at the family-owned Osprey Ecolodge.
The world-famous Kilometer 18 has several ecolodges and nature reserves within the area. In this case, the daily field trips rotated through a mix of several family-owned locations to make sure that the exposure was diverse and balanced to support all the families that make KM 18 so special.
Highlighting individuals and families in addition to supporting public initiatives is a spectacular way to add connections to local communications and share cultural experiences with birding festival attendees.
Bonus: The festival’s media highlights the birding community as much as birds
Toward the end of each field trip, we’d snap a group photo. Then, at the end of the day, the Birdfair would share all of the group shots on their social media channels. There were conversations over the dinner table of “You got to meet so-and-so! I spent yesterday with them!” and “Oh, I’m going to that location tomorrow, it looks great!”
Sharing photos of people enjoying the Birdfair was not only a great way to increase online engagement, but also a clever strategy to showcase the camaraderie of the entire event. Sharing photos and videos of people who are meeting new friends, making connections, and bonding over their experiences with birds is such an important component of spreading awareness about the joy of birding and the importance of conservation. After all, birding festivals are meant to build community around the love of birding—why not show the community off?