Where the Birds Are
Spring Skies Fill Up During Ohio’s Great Bird Migration
Teals and woodies. Herons and egrets. Red-tailed hawks and pine warblers. These and myriad other feathered species draw thousands of eyes from the Midwest and around the world during the great spring bird migration in Ohio, from mid-February to mid-June.
Ohio’s state parks and other protected wetlands and woodlands provide resting places for huge flocks of migratory birds and nesting places for those that choose to stay. Salt Fork, Mohican, Punderson, Deer Creek and Maumee Bay state parks all offer a variety of birdwatching activities either at the parks or within easy driving distance. Each of the parks feature naturalist programs that highlight the importance of birds, provide tips on protecting their habitats, and spotlight their place in the food chain.
Flocks arrive in Ohio in waves. Different birds appear at different times in each wave. Birders say that if you want to see something specific, check the Ohio Ornithological Society’s website to know when those birds typically migrate and what kind of resting place they prefer, from shoreline to forests. The website details what to see month to month, and where. Arrive at sunrise, when birds are most active.
Marshes and woodlands along the western shores of Lake Erie are a favorite resting stop for birds heading north to their nesting areas in Canada and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Head first for the motherlode at Magee Marsh in Ottawa County. No entrance fee. The staggering number of birds and bird species passing through means that you won’t go home disappointed.
Hard-core birders also flock to the nearby Oak Openings Region, known globally as a rare 130-square-mile ecosystem that consists largely of oak savanna and grassland prairie. It was formed over time after the last Ice Age, leaving behind a sandy soil where only grasses and thick-barked oak trees could survive.
In March, the northbound wave of waterfowl includes teals and woodies; red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, accipiters, vultures, and falcons; phoebes and pine warblers; and the first swallows. Herons and egrets, grebes, coots, and cormorants arrive, some to breed, others passing on; hordes of migrant golden-crowned kinglets pass by. Blackbirds dominate wetland sites. By mid-month, boreal birds begin to disappear for their flights farther north. Migrant pipits and longspurs arrive in fields.
April and May are the heaviest months.
Maumee Bay State Park
The park lodge is only about 10 minutes’ drive from the famed wetlands along Lake Erie that draw migrating songbirds such as warblers, as well as water birds, tundra swans and birds of prey. Bald eagles can be viewed throughout the year. A festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding, is held each May at Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center. For lodge reservations, visit maumeebaystateparklodge.com.
Mohican State Park
Woodlands are home to birds of prey, including bald eagles. Mohican Lodge features free, live birds-of-prey presentations by the Ohio Bird Sanctuary every Saturday night from April through October. Nearby, you may see neotropical migrant songbirds and wild turkeys, as well as turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks at Clear Fork Gorge, a National Natural Landmark. For lodge reservations, visit mohicanstateparklodge.com.
Salt Fork State Park
The Salt Fork Wildlife Area has an abundance of wood ducks, wading birds and shore birds in a marsh and along Salt Fork Lake, where birdwatchers see bald eagles, great blue heron and osprey. For lodge reservations, visit saltforkstateparklodge.com.
Punderson State Park
The North Chagrin Reservation, about 20 miles northwest of the park, features Canada geese, mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, a variety of water birds and birds of prey, such as red-shouldered hawks, barred and screech owls, and songbirds. For lodge reservations, visit pundersonmanorstateparklodge.com.
Deer Creek State Park
Woods draw migrant warblers during migration periods. Other birds of the region include ring-necked pheasant, eastern meadowlark, song sparrow, cowbird, eastern bluebird, barn swallow and woodcock. For lodge reservations, visit deercreekstateparklodge.com.
For additional resources on birding in Ohio, including a field checklist, visit wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife-watching/birding-resources.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit Xanterra.com/explore.
Written by: David G. Molyneaux
Ohio-based freelancer David Molyneaux writes regularly about travel and cruising tips and trends for newspapers and websites in Miami, Dallas and Cleveland. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com.