Case Study

Case Study: Hawk Festivals

Originally published 20 Jan 2019.

Early in September, I did a little research on the potential challenges facing the HMANA group (Hawk Migration Association of North America) and the Detroit River Hawkfest.
The Hawkfest is held every September at Lake Erie Metropark.

The festival is an attempt to improve the education and awareness of the birds of prey that migrate annually “down” the Detroit River like an expressway (the ultimate highway!) on their way south. More about the Detroit River and other Michigan Hawkwatchs

Osprey composite courtesy of 

Since it’s held in early-mid September, the weather is generally still comfortable for kids, families and others to attend and be amazed to see some raptors up close and personal (they release certain individual birds throughout the festival) and increase the awareness of the importance of the Detroit River ecosystem (bordering Ontario, Canada) to the region.

It seems that attendance at the event is declining. While we can’t easily ask past attendees why they’re not returning, we can use a little research to understand attendee expectations and figure out what can be done to improve the festival experience. No doubt the competition of other local events has something to do with it; but I thought: let’s take a look.
What is it: The Detroit River Hawkfest —During the peak of bird migration, attending a birding festival is often a great way to learn and enjoy watching birds of all kinds. —Cornell Lab of Ornithology says: “A great way to enjoy bird watching is by going to festivals—they’re organized to get you to great birding spots at a great time of year, and they’re a great way to meet people. Experts and locals help you see more birds, and you’ll meet other visitors who share your hobby.”

Why do we care?

  • —If you’re at all interested in birds, which many people are, there is often no better way to see local and exotic species up close.
  • —According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contributed $36 billion to the US economy 2006, and one fifth (20%) of all Americans are identified as birdwatchers.3
  • —Bird migration counts are an excellent source of early warning for those monitoring the (environmental) health of a region.4

Why should we care about the Detroit River Hawk Watch? Hawkfest? Per

  • —Location, location, location
  • —Detroit International Wildlife Refuge
  • —Detroit River Hawk Watch
  • —100s of thousands of migrating eagles, hawks, falcons, and vultures
  • —Where it is possible to systematically count them each year
  • —Citizen-Science is a major contributor to raptor population index

*****Join the Facebook Group*****

What questions are we addressing in this study?

  1. —1. Typical expectations to attend a bird/nature festival
  2. 2. —What is important to an attender at a festival


First, looking at the general expectations of attendees at nature festivals: 

Based on this MMX visualization of a public internet search, we can see a lot of “miscellaneous” sources, but a great expectation of recreation, some home, arts, business, and sports.

 This visualization shows the terms most often found together in publications. When we look at the materials published, raptors is a large cluster, followed by center / education, birds of prey,  staff/guides, trails; bald eagles, nature, and more. Nothing unusual jumps out of this visualization. There is a clear understanding of what one would experience or have as an option via bird/nature education. 

Here, we get a more specific understanding. These can be viewed as expectations often served up at bird/nature festivals. Not a surprise, but strong interests: field trips, guided tours, schedule (a published schedule of the event), seasonal and location specific content. While none of these is earth shattering, it does confirm the types of content and events to schedule for a festival. 

In this visualization, thanks to the MMX values engine, we get a sense for why people are so moved to birds/nature and especially expressed through public festivals. Celebration and fun, sustainability/thrift, legacy (how will we leave the world), cool (very interesting), adventure, peace, discovery and escape. We can get a good understanding for how to match and mix the events we schedule to increase the value or motivation people have to attend a bird festival. Another way of thinking of values depicted here is: what are the motivations people have generally for participating in and attending a bird/nature festival. (Your mileage may vary)

This visualization shows how and where people spend their money in relation to bird/nature events in the US (2nd quarter 2018). Using a mashup algorithm, the MMX tool can create a visualization showing on what people spend their money. (Put their money where their mouths are.) This is very telling; people vote by what they buy) Looking at the circles for “all” that is the total of the US population, we can see a wide distribution of content purchased. 

We can see the largest bubbles (spend amounts) for computers (apps?), bring-it-home content (is this another way of saying: what can we learn and do that we can bring into our own backyard?); travel and recreation friendly activities, games and from the arts world: music!

Splitting this out by age group, we can see that people 0-19 yo are interested in a similar breakout of spending options. Surprisingly, they are interested in educational opportunities (what is often called a “play-sumer”?) and philanthropy. Philanthropy can take many forms, from direct donation of funds to volunteering opportunities. This visualization shows that those folks younger than 20 years are interested in giving to these services. Makes the heart warm that this is important to them as well. 

Now, we can also take a look at how this breakout may change as the US population gets older (40+ yo) and has additional competition for their hard-earned funds/time. We see a similar breakout to the “kids” but a noticeable bump in spending for health related products/services. Pets too (fur babies) are also a bigger purchase base.  

Finally, (for now) let’s look at where people actually spend at a bird/nature festival. We see a distribution of product/services that echo the education expectations earlier. What they have in common includes: “bring it home”, travel, food, pets, radio/music. These give us some clues as to what kinds of events are more likely to serve attendees best. Oddly missing from typical bird festivals, but found in other festival settings: health! This becomes a gap in the overall offerings that we can spend some energy on. 


What are some of the events at the “edge” of innovation at other festivals and programs that we can  tap into? 

This innovative idea shows how certain festivals have partnered with Faber-Castell as one option to show how certain technologies can contribute to not only learning more about the technologies but also apply to birds and nature content. For those who love birds but don’t have access to high-technologies, seeing these 2 important spheres overlap opens opportunities that may have been more difficult to see before. 

Pizza and Russia: a clever idea shows some folks using a Dominos pizza box to make a bird feeder that they can then use to feed their birds the pizza crusts that don’t get eaten. 

Using more high tech but easy to connect sensors, internet of things program let’s people all over a community watch and listen to their feathered friends from the comfort of their own homes, real-time. This brings the birds inside without actually bringing them inside. 

What are futurists thinking about the future of festivals? What aspects can we use to illuminate a direction for our festival?  

Taking a now- near- far view here are a sampling of statements from real-world futurists(5):

  • —The Technology Market has typically been the biggest attention-grabber at past festivals: This year, visitors could experience the future of retail by donning AR-powered goggles that allowed them to view the inside of a shopping mall without ever setting a foot in one.
  • —A legal UK cannabis market alone could be worth nearly £7bn a year
  • —2018 can expect to see further growth with more festivals and events welcoming street food vendors.
  • —2018 will continue to celebrate street food.

Next Steps?!

  1. With this bundle of information and ah-has, some next steps for the HMANA group include:
  2. —Generate list of ideas – innovations for 2019
  3. —Partners (local/regional)
  4. —What kinds of experiences can be supported?

It so happens that HMANA are creating their next 3-5 year strategy for the organization. As a lead organization, they stand to serve hawk and other bird/nature venues as an innovation center. Such would allow this community to try-out new ideas, technologies and partnerships to benefit the communities and birds they serve. 

If you’re interested in following this study and it’s outcomes, click here to send a note and I’ll share with Jane at HMANA

(1)  (2) (3)Wikipedia;
(4)HMANA conference, 2018; Romulus, MI

MMX information:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.