The Waterfowl Festival: Big Fun in Easton, Maryland

Written by Kurt Jacobson

August 9, 2023
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Looking for a great fall destination in the Mid-Atlantic states? Head to Easton for leaf-peeping and the annual Waterfowl Festival. Read on for what to see and do at the Easton Waterfowl Festival.

Every year I can count on two things to draw me to Easton, MD: gorgeous fall weather and the Waterfowl Festival. As the local farms are shorn of their crops, wild ducks and geese start showing up to eat the gleanings. For over two hundred years, the Delmarva Peninsula has attracted waterfowl hunters to reap nature’s bounty that flies in from the north. This hunting heritage is deeply rooted in the Delmarva culture.

A sculpture of two Canadian Geese adorns the front of the Armory at Easton, MD. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

I grew up in Colorado and started hunting doves, ducks, pheasants, grouse, and geese at age five. The culture of bird hunting has stayed with me for a lifetime, even though I put away my guns and switched to a camera three decades ago. When I learned about the Waterfowl Festival, I knew I had to go and see how they celebrate the waterfowl hunting culture in Easton.

The Beginning

The Easton Waterfowl Festival was started in 1971. One of the reasons the festival was conceived can be found on the Waterfowl Festival website: to capture the true romance, the excitement, engendered by the area’s wild birds and the hunting sport they create.

Ground central at the Waterfowl Festival is buzzing with excitement. Photo by Kurt Jacobson.

From my visits to the Waterfowl Festival in 2021 and 2022, I can tell you that excitement envelopes this festival. Although the festival celebrates waterfowl hunting, you don’t need to be a hunter to enjoy your visit.  To some folks, it seems counterintuitive that waterfowl hunters can be good for birds and the environment, but groups like Ducks Unlimited have helped by conserving waterfowl habitat. By preserving waterfowl habitat, much of nature survives and thrives.

Everybody and Their Dog

Dogs are welcome at most event sites, except for some food service areas. I saw dogs with their owners walking the streets of Easton, at restaurants with outdoor dog-friendly dining areas, and at other events like the Retriever Demonstrations.

Some of the vendors brought their dogs along as goodwill ambassadors. One such vendor was happy to show off his Chesapeake Bay Retriever, aka Chessie. My family had a Chessie when I was growing up, and they aren’t just great hunting dogs. They are excellent family dogs.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is the State Dog of Maryland. This Chess was happy to pose for a picture. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

High Flying Dogs

My wife and I started exploring this waterfowl event by visiting the Delmarva Dock Dogs pool. The competition pool is an above-ground rectangular version, usually 35 feet long by 4 feet deep and 8 feet wide. We walked up close to the dog jumping event and saw dogs and their owners doing practice jumps. We had our German Shepherd Sophie with us, and she sensed the excitement.

When Sophie saw the first dog jump, she started barking, whining, and pulling on her leash. Each time another dog jumped in, Sophie was excited to try jumping too. Although dog owners can sign up their pups before the event to try jumping, we didn’t relish the idea of driving home with a wet dog.

The rookie dogs often hesitate to jump in the pool, and the crowd cheers them on, hoping to see a beginner jump. Both rookies and experienced jumpers get lots of love from the crowd. While you probably won’t see world record-type jumps of more than 35 feet, you will see some dogs jumping over 25 feet, landing with a big splash.

Food and Drink at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton

Throughout the town, food vendors and local restaurants cater to the crowd. There are some hungry and thirsty people with 18,000 to 20,000 visitors in attendance for the three-day festival. The food vendors offer a variety of tasty treats like oyster sandwiches, fresh-shucked oysters, crabcakes, French fries, BBQ chicken, clam strips, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs.

An oyster shucker keeps up with the demand satisfying another happy customer. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Some specialty food vendors included T’s Divine Sweets serving pies, muffins, and cookies. My favorite vendor of sweets is Clare’s Nutty Concoctions, where I get the best nut brittle ever. Clare’s cashew brittle is to die for, and she was handing out samples under the Wine, Beer, and Food Tent on Harrison Street.

Clare’s Nutty Concoctions was my favorite sweet treat at the 2022 Waterfowl Festival. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

My favorite restaurants to dine at during the festival are Sunflowers and Greens due to their delicious salads and their dog-friendly sidewalk tables. Other favorite eateries are Scossa Italian restaurant or Bas Rouge for high-end dining. Two places on my must-try list are Out of the Fire and Legal Assets, both in the downtown area serving lunch and dinner.

Food Trucks, Wine, and Beer at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton

What would a festival be without food trucks? We saw Pete’s Pizza set up shop near the Armory and doing a brisk business selling pizza, chicken tenders, and flounder sandwiches. Beer and wine are available in several locations. My wife and I like the upscale wine lineup at Sunflowers and Greens.

Next to the Bullitt House, Big Truck Farm Brewery had a large tent open Friday through Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. Casa Carmen from Chestertown, MD, was pouring glasses or tastes of vino under the wine and beer tent. This Delmarva winery is operated by two brothers from Argentina that know how to craft good wine.

Casa Carmen wines at their tasting room in Chestertown, MD. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

rar Brewing from Cambridge, MD, was also in attendance. This popular Maryland brewery has been featured in Edible Delmarva Magazine and other worthy publications.

Local beer maker rar brewing came from Cambridge, MD, to pour one of Maryland’s best microbrews. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Fun For Kids Too

The Easton Waterfowl Festival is very kid-friendly. On the first day of the festival, kids could take part in a ‘Paint a Decoy’ class, listen in on Children’s Story Time, enjoy art activities with the Ward Museum, and take part in learning about oysters at the Fishmobile.

Decoy painting event for kids at Waterfowl Festival brings smiles to these painters. Photo courtesy of the Waterfowl Festival

On Saturday, the kids could add to Friday’s list of fun things to do, like fishing in the Kid’s Derby, learning to quack like a duck at the Children’s Calling Clinic, and then attending the World Waterfowl Calling Championships final.

The duck calling event for kids is a big hit. Photo courtesy of the Waterfowl Festival

Kids also like events like the dock dogs mentioned above and the retriever demonstrations held at the Bay Street Ponds. The retriever dogs shake with excitement as they wait for the shotgun blast and command from their handlers to fetch the fake duck launched into the ponds.

Seeing the dogs working hard to find the “duck” that landed far from their position on the pond’s shoreline is great fun. Once the dog is in the water, their head is only inches above the waterline, making it hard to see very far.

Birds of Prey

My favorite event in 2022 was the raptor demonstration held by the VFW. With demonstrations put on by Skyhunters in Flight, owners Brian Bradley and his wife Teddy treated festivalgoers to amazing birds up close. The event space was on a large lawn with a roped circle for the crowd to gather around. Brian and Teddy took turns walking inside the circle, holding barn owls, red tail hawks, a Gyr-Barbary hybrid Falcon and other birds of prey inches away from the curious humans.

Brian Bradley and his owl friend working the crowd at the raptor event. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

My favorite birds were the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Gyr-Barbary hybrid falcon. The owl was let loose from its box and flew to Brain, who held an owl treat in his gloved hand.  Brian walked slowly around the inner circle and told the audience a few facts about Owls. Then the Owl was untethered and flew a few feet away, landing on the lawn.

The owl walked around and stopped suddenly, giving us the Death Stare. Teddy explained this owl didn’t like dogs and was probably looking at one, which was our dog Sophie, the only dog in the audience. Sophie wasn’t too concerned and merely gazed back at the interesting bird.

A performing Eurasian Eagle Owl gives our dog the death stare. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Star of the Show

The coolest bird in the event had to be the Gyr-Barbary hybrid falcon. This raptor was black and grey striped on the backside and the front side white with dark specks. The Gyr-Barbary Falcon was among the most beautiful raptors I’ve ever seen.

A Gyr-Barbary hybrid falcon shows its colorful backside while covering up its catch. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Brian told me he thinks they will be invited back to the Waterfowl Festival in 2023, but check the festival’s website to confirm Skyhunters in Flight will be coming. Exhibitors change each year, and that’s part of the fun in attending.

Where to Stay for the Waterfowl Festival in Easton

When I stay overnight in Easton, my top choices are Tidewater Inn and Hummingbird Inn. The Tidewater Inn was built after a fire destroyed the Hotel Avon in 1944. The latest version opened as the Tidewater Inn in 1949 and has been going strong ever since. Dog owners often bring Fido to Easton, and the Tidewater Inn welcomes well-behaved dogs. The pet fee is a reasonable $50 one-time charge.

The Tidewater Inn is in the middle of Easton and fills up festival dates weeks in advance. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The Hunter’s Tavern opened in November 2009 and is the onsite restaurant for Tidewater Inn.  The restaurant features a large outdoor patio that fills up during the Waterfowl Festival. Their sister property, The Tidewater House, is an elegant vintage mansion with a two-day minimum during the festival.

When I asked the Tidewater Inn’s sales manager, Lauren Cattertin, how important the Waterfowl Festival is, she said, “It’s a huge deal for our whole community.” Artists, hotels, and restaurants benefit greatly from this annual November event.

A B&B Option in Easton, MD

I love staying at the Hummingbird Inn, a Victorian masterpiece on Aurora Street. Offering five rooms decorated in authentic period fashion and another one, the Crisfield Room, a modern style. Breakfast at the Hummingbird Inn is elegant. Chef Eric prepares one of two entrees each morning, I recommend the egg bake with a side of sautéed mushrooms, and guests can choose from several juices, teas, or coffee. Home-baked breads accompany breakfast, and mimosas or a Bellini add to the special occasion.

The Hummingbird Inn Easton is an elegant B&B we love to stay at. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Dogs are welcome at the Hummingbird Inn, and I have yet to find a more accommodating place to take our dog. The pet fee is only $25, and Eric will dog-sit your pup on advanced notice for $15 per hour. Add to that a mostly fenced backyard for Fido to take care of business, adding to dog happiness.

The above lodging choices are within walking distance of many Waterfowl Festival events.

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When Visiting the Easton Waterfowl Festival

Each November, the Easton Waterfowl Festival has what it takes to attract families, waterfowl hunters, couples, and solo travelers. Prime lodging books months in advance, as do some of the restaurants. Plan ahead to make the most of this fun three-day festival. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Maryland or other parts of the Mid-Atlantic. We also have great recommendations for more fall getaways!

Written by Kurt Jacobson

Kurt Jacobson is a former chef and current freelance travel writer. His writing covers restaurants, destinations, hotel features, farms, and wine. When not hanging out at home Kurt loves exploring the Mid-Atlantic area with his wife and dog Sophie. Kurt's published articles can be found at Trip101.com, GoNOMAD.com, Mother Earth News Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, tasteoftravel2.com, and 40+ publications worldwide. Find Kurt online on Twitter at @KurtTravels2 and follow his website http://tasteoftravel2.com/.

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