WILLCOX — This weekend, Wings Over Willcox (WOW) Birding and Nature Festival begins its celebration of the spectacular feathered species who call the eastern half of Cochise County home for the winter.

From Friday through Sunday, WOW brings together expertly led birding tours, free educational seminars and a nature expo with live animals and informative exhibits, said Diane Drobka, media coordinator for the event, in a press release.

“It’s a great family event with something for all ages including fun activities for kids,” she stated.

Willcox lies at the center of some of the most diverse birding habitat in Arizona, attracting thousands of lesser and greater sandhill cranes, as well as many species of waterfowl and shorebirds and vast flocks of red-wing and yellow-headed blackbirds, she continued.

Marshlands like Willcox Playa and Whitewater Draw in McNeal attract up to 30,000 wintering sandhill cranes that forage in the numerous farm fields across the Sulphur Springs Valley during the day. Surrounding lakes and ponds draw hundreds of waterfowl and shorebirds, like the Apache power station wildlife viewing area.

“The area is also a hawk-watcher’s paradise, with many species easily seen close to town and along roadways on fence lines and power poles,” Drobka said.

Climbing in elevation through oak, pinyon and juniper habitats provides a unique opportunity to see a mix of bird species. The nearby Chiricahua and Dragoon mountains include pine, fir and spruce forests and their proximity to the international border can result in sightings of species normally seen in Mexico and Central America.

WOW tours explore these habitats, attempting to see some of the more than 100 avian species, while sometimes catching a glimpse of mammals such as pronghorns and white–tailed deer.

Tours offer something for both the casual birder who might get excited seeing a greater roadrunner and those wanting a new “life list” species such as a Merlin, yellow–eyed junco or the recently seen greater white-fronted goose.

Forays include half–day tours such as Sparrow Seek and Hawk Stalk, as well as sunrise and sunset crane viewing. Those leaving on early–morning tours can enjoy the Rotary Breakfast at the Willcox Community Center. Transportation and water are provided for all tours; full-day trips include lunch.

Other tours focus on geology, history and even local wines.

Live wildlife, including raptors, will be exhibited Saturday, Jan. 18, by the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Center. Founded in 1983, the primary objectives of the Wildlife Center are to provide wildlife education outreach programs throughout Arizona, provide care for confiscated native wildlife, and manage the desert tortoise adoption program.

Saturday’s evening banquet at the Elks Lodge includes a choice of prime rib, chicken or vegetarian lasagna. Keynote speaker Rick Taylor will present “Six Seasons: A Birding Year in the Land of the Apache,” highlighting the Chiricahua Apaches’ six seasons based on transitions in nature.

Several tours are sold out but there are still tickets for some tours and the banquet available for those who register online, by phone or at the festival.

To inquire about tour availability, call 520–384–2874.

A list of tours and seminars, nature expo participants, local eBird hotspots, hotels, and a biography of the keynote speaker, can be found at www.wingsoverwillcox.com.

“Don’t miss your chance to experience this great winter birding event,” Drobka said.

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