Visitors to Weston often think of fall festivals, tobacco fields and wineries. But it’s also a temporary home to more than 300 species of birds that make their way through the area every spring and summer during migration from Central and South America.
Weston’s annual Wings over Weston Festival celebrated its seventh year May 13 at Weston Bend State Park’s Bee Tree Shelter.
The event, organized by the Burroughs Audubon Society of Greater Kansas City and sponsored by Missouri State Parks, attracts up to 800 visitors each year who want to learn about birds in the area.
“The bottomland forest along Leavenworth and Weston is 1,360 acres of the oldest, largest tract of bottomland forest along the Missouri river,” said festival co-chairman Christine Kline. “It’s exactly as Louis and Clark discovered it. It’s a mecca for songbirds.”
The birds follow the Missouri river on their journey north during the spring and summer seasons before they migrate south in the fall, Kline adds.
The event allows kids to unplug from technology and head outside, while providing an educational opportunity free of charge, organizers say.
“We saw it was free and thought, ‘Why not,” says Maryville resident Jackson Stetson.
Stetson brought his wife, Sarah, and their three kids, all of whom are homeschooled. “We look for ways to get them out,” he says of the day’s events.
More than 25 stations were spread across five acres of land, where children built bird feeders and houses and painted murals.
“I got to hammer down the nails,” said Stetson’s 7-year-old son, Gavin, of building the house with his mom.
The event costs around $6,900 and is funded through grants and organizations like Platte County Parks and the City of Weston.
The festival couldn’t take place without the help of volunteers like Randy Keeran, private land conservationist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Keeran was on site offering advice to visitors about how to optimize land to make it inviting for wildlife. The hope, he says, is to spark an interest in children about nature and conservation.
“Teaching kids and getting them involved now really sets us up for success over the long-term,” Keeran says. “We don’t want them to forget that the outdoors are out there.”
Between 60 to 80 volunteers help each year, Kline says. Volunteers spent three weeks leading up to the event making 500 bird masks for the kids.
Booths also included bird-banding, a process in which birds migrating through the area are collected in mist nets, identified with a tiny ankle bracelet and recorded before being set free. Volunteer Jack Hilsabeck, 76, has been bird-banding since the 1970s. The process tracks abundance and migration patterns of birds.
Kline says that of the more than 300 species of birds that migrate through the area, the children’s favorites include the indigo bunting and the Baltimore oriole. The birds, she says, allows them to experience every color of the rainbow outside of the classroom.
“We want them to rediscover nature,” Kline says. “I love to see their eyes light up when they see a baby bird.