Feathered fun for families in Morro Bay

Long before anyone determined Morro Bay was a perfect venue to sight birds of all kinds of feathers, a national winter bird count was established to annually tabulate the number of birds in participating areas.

About 200 species flock to Morro Bay each winter. After being tabulated on a designated day in December, the count is documented in a national registry.

So a bird festival made good tourism sense. Thus, the 15th annual Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival is scheduled for Friday through Jan. 17.

It features walking and hiking tours, birding talks, and field, bay and ocean trips among more than 110 activities intended to demonstrate how and why birds — and those in quest of sighting more birds — frequent the Central Coast.

Former Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters has organized the festival for 13 years. Each year, something new enhances the program.

“For years, we’ve tried to find the right format to attract families. Children are our future birders. We’ve created a wonderful opportunity for families to enjoy the festival together,” she said.

Family Day is all day Saturday. The fee is $35 per family group. Family Day programs are also open to all registrants.

Activities include beginning birding, kayaking, “Birds and Their Tool Kits” — in which family members role-play bird species to discover their lifestyles — and a puppet show.

Because of the popularity of Pacific Wildlife Care’s “Meet the Raptors,” which is always open to nonregistrants, the festival committee added “Rubbing Noses with Reptiles” and “Critter Crawl” with bugs and such.

Learning how to track birds or animals is also new to the program, Peters said.

“A must-see presentation included with Family Day is Sunday evening’s special presentation with Kara Hagedorn and her red-tailed hawk, Sunshine,” she said.

“Kara’s story is so heart-warming,” Peters said about the biologist who helped her hawk nurture her first brood. “She tells how every year, Sunshine built a nest for her eggs, but chicks never hatched.

“Kara tried to help Sunshine by warming her eggs in the palm of her hands, but the eggs were infertile. She experimented to see if Sunshine might accept another species’ eggs in the nest.

“Chickens are kill-food for hawks, but Kara tried hiding chick eggs while Sunshine was sleeping,” Peters said. “When they hatched, Sunshine was a wonderful mother, nurturing them until the chicks were grown.”

John Muir Laws, a natural history author, illustrator and educator, will be the keynote speaker Saturday, with a visual exploration of the astounding relationships between plants and animals on the Central Coast.

Online registration is closed, but starting Thursday, sign-ups will be taken at the Morro Bay Community Center on Kennedy Way. Call 275-4143 or visit www.morrobaybirdfestival.org for information.

Reach Judy Salamacha at 801-1422 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.