BAR HARBOR — Bird watchers will flock to Mount Desert Island on Thursday, May 31, for the Acadia Birding Festival, an event that began in 1997. The festival is the brainchild of ornithologist Michael Good, founder of Down East Nature Tours. This year’s festival spans four days, plus some pre- and postfestival trips.
Good founded Down East Nature Tours in 1993, and the festival hatched from the company. Before 2008, the festival was named “Warblers and Wildflowers Festival” because Good wanted to draw attention to wetland habitats, which a majority of warblers call home.
He said 18 to 20 different warblers, small, usually brown or green birds, nest on the island.
The festival was planned in hopes of bolster tourism in the shoulder seasons, as well as build awareness of birds and their habitat.
“We could build on the uniqueness of birds in our community and educate people about habitat and environmental issues that affect birds and, ultimately, us,” Good said.
“That’s why destruction of habitat is really bad,” he said, because we have this huge diversity of birds that come up here.”
It’s not just canaries in coal mines. When bird populations suffer, say from disease or pollution, it’s often an early warning of something that will affect humans down the line.
“They are an indicator species of what’s going on in the world around us,” he said. “Awareness of birds creates an awareness of ecological issues.”
Good, who has an ornithology degree from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said the unique environment on MDI offers a number of hotspots for migrating and resident birds.
“You have all these freshwater streams and watersheds, and along with that is habitat for birds,” he said. “Mount Desert Island is a stopover location that allows us to catch [migrating birds.]”
About 150 species of birds have been spotted here. Good said a recent study showed 201 species breeding statewide.
The festival’s schedule is jam-packed with as many as 27 walks or trips on a single day. Each day also has a talk or keynote speaker. On June 1, Marshall Iliff, one of the developers of the online bird database eBird, will speak.
There is a boat trip to see a number of unique ocean birds, like puffins and red-necked grebes.
Good said the event has grown steadily. About 300 people attended last year’s festival, and he expects the growth to continue.
“I’m extremely happy with the way it’s developed.” Good said. “We’re shooting somewhere closer to 350, and we’re up to 40 guides now.”
Good said the event is a major boost for the local economy, estimating that the festival guests spend more than $100,000 in town during the four-day festival.
“The first three years, we were struggling along trying to keep a concept going,” he said. “No one was talking about bird-watching festivals [years ago]; people weren’t tied into the value.”
The festival runs until June 3. There are pre- and postfestival trips planned on May 30, June 4 and June 5. Two trips are all-day excursions to Saddleback Mountain led by Good.