Down Indy Dunes – The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival

Running along fifteen miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Park is recognized throughout the USA as a birder’s heaven. Every May, as the trees bud and the wildflowers bloom, the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival welcomes visitors from near and far to celebrate the remarkable diversity of birdlife that is either just passing through or calls this area home, which Owen also does. 

Red-Eye Vireo

 The Indiana Dunes Park takes its name from the unique habitat there, formed from sand deposited by both the western and eastern shores of the lake, creating long sweeping dunes interspersed with marshes, forests, prairies, and, of course, fringed by beautiful beaches. These extraordinary habitats all in one place make it a veritable haven for hundreds of bird species and rare native plants, making it the best birding destination in the state, and the state’s largest tourist attraction. 

Lake Michigan and the Dunes are a crucial stopover for migratory birds traveling along the Mississippi Flyway, which extends from Hudson Bay in Canada across the western Great Lakes and onto the Gulf of Mexico. Some birds even use this flyway to migrate from the Arctic Ocean to Patagonia. As a consequence, there is a huge array of bird species to see here depending on the time of year, but even outside migration, it truly is a four-season park. Photography enthusiasts naturally find plenty to capture along the 50 miles or so of trails through the dunes’ breathtaking landscapes that cover over 15,000 acres. Owen captured this Virginia Rail on a visit there, one of the park’s top ten species along with waterthrush, vireos and numerous warbler species. 


Whip-poor-wills are a type of nightjar that have sadly been on the decline in the area, but you can still get the opportunity to witness or at least hear their vociferous nocturnal call as they return to the dunes in the Spring and breeding season takes us through the Summer. They are only the size of a robin, so you are more likely to hear their eponymous call, but keep your eyes peeled all the same.

The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival takes place this year from May 16th – 19th and is a wonderfully packed celebration of the region’s status. Taking place during the spring migration, one of the festival’s main attractions are the guided birding excursions led by knowledgeable local experts which lead participants through this mosaic of habitats; along sandy shorelines, deep into lush woodlands, and through tranquil wetlands.

Virginia Rail

In addition to birding walks, the festival also offers a range of educational workshops and presentations designed to enhance participants’ understanding of avian ecology and conservation. Topics cover everything from tricky warbler and sparrow identification and behavior to habitat restoration and citizen science initiatives. Renowned ornithologists, writers, scientists, and naturalists share their expertise, providing personal insights and inspiring attendees to become advocates for protecting the world’s birds.


The brilliantly curated schedule of the Birding Festival shows that it’s not just all about the birds; it’s also about fostering a sense of community and appreciation for our natural world. Social gatherings and networking events provide attendees with the opportunity to connect with fellow bird enthusiasts, share stories and experiences, and forge lasting friendships. As we continue to face seemingly overwhelming environmental challenges, habitat loss and other concerns, events like the Festival play a vital role in raising awareness and promoting conservation efforts, at the same time as empowering each other to continue to do our very best at protecting the birds we love.

Common Yellowthroat

Owen has been photographing birds in the Indiana Dunes since 2018 and considers himself lucky to have access to such natural beauty right on his doorstep, and with upwards of 350 species to be found, there’s always something to see. You can also download a program of the Festival’s scheduled events here.

Happy birding!