Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge's annual Eagle Festival celebrates the comeback of our national symbol. Photo: Betty Whetzel

Annual Eagle Festival Soars High at Blackwater, Mid-Atlantic’s Largest Bald Eagle Breeding Site 

Meet birds of prey and celebrate the birthday of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, this month. The annual Eagle Festival returns to the refuge Saturday, March 11, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The 32,000-acre Blackwater refuge has been conserving wildlife for all to enjoy since 1933, making this year’s festival part of a 90th birthday celebration.

The free, family friendly event puts the spotlight on the once-endangered bald eagle as well as other birds with educational programs, exhibits, live demos, hands-on activities and tours of the refuge.

The bald eagle is a conservation success story for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the nation’s wildlife refuges. Eagles have made a dramatic comeback after population declines due to the use of the now-banned insecticide DDT, plus destruction of habitat.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest East Coast breeding population north of Florida. “The festival occurs smack-dab in the middle of nesting season,” says Matt Whitbeck, supervisory wildlife biologist for Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex, which includes Blackwater and Eastern Neck wildlife refuges. 

“The eagle population continues continues to do great,” he reports. “We have been doing a midwinter eagle survey since 1980, and while the annual counts bounce around depending on weather, on average we are seeing about 150 eagles annually.”

Whitbeck says guests to the refuge should expect to see pairs of nesting eagles as well as some non breeding individuals. “Eagles should all be on nests at this time, incubating eggs. We may still see some territorial competition. Really it’s a great time to watch them fishing and going about their lives. A great time to come down and really appreciate this conservation success story.”

Festival exhibitors will provide visitors with up-close views of live eagles, owls, and falcons. Maryland DNR Scales and Tales naturalists will also have live reptiles on display. 

A young visitor builds a nesting box for birds. Photo: Rita Mhley

Guided tours will be available throughout the day, including eagle prowls and tours of Wildlife Drive.  Registration for tours will begin at 9:30 a.m. the day of the festival (no pre-registration).  Early birds can meet at the refuge’s Environmental Education Building on Wildlife Drive at 8 a.m. for a guided birding tour with Terry Allen.   

Kids’ activities include build-your-own nesting box for wrens, owl pellet exploration, make-your-own wildlife magnet, bookmark, and/or binoculars, and face painting. Make-and-take activities will run throughout the day while supplies last.  Kids can also try their skills at a youth archery range and the National Wild Turkey Federation’s BB gun range. 

Families can enjoy a StoryWalk along the Woods Trail with the picture book “Over in A River.”  

Food and drinks will be available for purchase throughout the day, benefitting the local Boy Scout Troop 532. 

Programs and activities take place at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center as well as in large, heated tents adjacent to the building.  Entrance to the festival, the Wildlife Drive, and all activities are free thanks to the support of the Friends of Blackwater and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

 For more information and a program schedule, visit, or call 410-228-2677.  

-Kathy Knotts