Northland's biggest and most colourful winter festival returns this weekend after it was saved at the 11th hour by an infusion of new volunteers.

Russell's Birdman Festival was founded in 2007 in a bid to bring some life to the Bay of Islands during the sleepy winter months, and quickly grew into a three-day family festival pulling as many as 5000 spectators.

Over the years, however, the original organisers moved on, and by May this year only two were left. The demise of the Duke Tavern and its pokie machines also meant the festival lost a key source of funding.

With the Birdman's future looking uncertain the remaining organisers put out an SOS and were rewarded with an influx of new volunteers.

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They also decided to pare the event back to two days instead of three, bring in some new events and change the timing of others.

Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai, aka Crazy Old Bird, appears to have second thoughts before jumping from Russell wharf in the 2017 Birdman festival. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai, aka Crazy Old Bird, appears to have second thoughts before jumping from Russell wharf in the 2017 Birdman festival. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The madness will start on Friday afternoon with the Fred Dagg Dash and the Drag Race, in which competitors dressed as the opposite sex compete in a gruelling obstacle course.

Registration opens at 4.30pm with racing from 5pm. Gumboots are compulsory for the ladies; a frock, high heels and handbag for the gents.

In a new event starting at 6pm, kids will toast marshmallows on a beach bonfire before setting off on a kiwi walk to hopefully spot New Zealand's native bird in the wild.

The festival's main drawcard, the Birdman jump, will take place as always at 2pm on Russell wharf, after a parade by this year's crop of contestants at 1.30pm. The Supreme Birdman 2019 and category winners will be named at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel at 4pm.

Organiser Pania Sigley said entries for the Birdman jump would be accepted until noon on Saturday.

''We've got 10 really good courageous craft so far and a lot of entries from outside the area this year, from Whangārei and even one family from Auckland.''

A battle tank and a giant worm were among this year's entries, she said.

The weather forecast was not promising for Friday's drag race but Saturday was expected to be sunny.

New events on Saturday include street sports, a kids' fishing competition, oyster shucking races and a tug of war; returning attractions from previous years include a wok cook-off, Corflute boat building, dinghy races, a spaghetti-eating contest and a man marlin challenge.

Saturday's action starts with a 9.30am beach dig and runs until 4pm.