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Earth Notes: Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival

Turkey vulture
Lee Karney
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The turkey vulture is the star of this year's Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival.

The Verde River is home to more than two hundred species of birds. It flows through a rare cottonwood-willow riparian forest in central Arizona: a leafy corridor where birds can rest on their migratory journeys each spring. It’s the perfect place for longtime birders, and for people who are just getting started in birdwatching, to celebrate Earth Day at next week’s Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival.

This year, the festival’s organizers will highlight the turkey vulture, an often-unloved bird which plays a vital role in ecosystems as a garbage collector and recycler. It’s an impressive bird with a six-foot wingspan and easy to identify by its bald head. But it’s not the only bird on the list.

Visitors to the festival may spot summer tanagers and vermilion flycatchers, which add a splash of bright red to the landscape, or lazuli buntings, with beautiful blue feathers. The Verde Valley is even home to endangered species, such the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

The festival includes four days of field visits and workshops. It’s held at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, with trips farther afield in Cottonwood, Sedona, Cornville, Camp Verde, and Flagstaff. There’s even a chance to go birding by moonlight to look for owls and stargaze with telescopes.

Next Saturday is a free event with kid-friendly activities and a BioBlitz, where volunteers will try to identify as many species as possible for science. It's a way for all kinds of people to learn about one of Arizona’s Wild and Scenic rivers and the abundant life it supports.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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