They've traveled remarkable distances, having fattened themselves for the long flight on the lush pickings they enjoyed throughout their winter stay in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean islands.
Extra weight packed on, they embarked on their journey several weeks or even months ago, headed toward North America and longer daylight hours.
While spring peepers and awakening buds are trademarks of a new season in Ohio, it is the homecoming of migratory birds that most truly and definitively announces the return of spring.
About 200 species of neotropical migratory birds annually make this incredible intercontinental trip, including songbirds, shorebirds and a few types of waterfowl. Nesting grounds for these birds vary widely throughout Canada and the United States, yet no matter the final destination, their long journey will require layovers – known as stopover sites – where they may rest and refuel for the next leg of their trip.
Just Passing Through
Many of the migratory birds witnessed in Ohio won’t nest within the state, but are simply stopping over on their way further north.
Each year in mid-May, an estimated 7,000 birdwatchers travel to Ohio’s Magee Marsh Wildlife Area to witness an incredible infusion of hundreds of species, of which the majority are merely passing through. Flycatchers, thrushes, orioles and vireos abound here, but it’s the flurry of reds, blues, oranges and greens from the myriad species of warbler that garner the most attention.
A beach ridge along the southern shore of Lake Erie, the site is a mixture of marsh, sedge meadow, and both deep and shallow water – creating the bird equivalent of one of those colossal turnpike pit stops. Already deep in transit, the sight of open water with no chance for landing is overwhelming for these little creatures and the prospect of an unlimited buffet and a little R & R before forging across the large lake must be tantalizing.
But the shoreline of Lake Erie isn’t the only habitat that these winged migrants rely upon.
Safe havens in Ohio
Within southern Ohio’s Appalachian forests, The Nature Conservancy’s 13,000-acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve with its timbered slopes, prairie openings, and rocky hollows offers an important sanctuary for nesting migratory birds. In spring, the canopy comes alive here as hooded, pine, and cerulean warblers show off for potential mates.
In the northeastern portion of the state, a distinct landscape comprised of glacial wetlands attracts its share of visitors as well. Here – within the Grand River Watershed – the Conservancy’s Morgan Swamp Preserve supports an impressive 115 species of birds, including the Wilson’s warbler and the bay-breasted warbler, who stop at the preserve on their way to Canada.
And while the Conservancy is working to protect key migratory bird nesting and stopover sights within Ohio, the very nature of neotropical migratory birds requires that our efforts extend beyond state and country borders.
Because dozens of birds found nesting or resting in Ohio spend their winters 1,500 miles away in the Central American country of Belize, the Conservancy knows it’s important to look after habitat at both ends of the flyway.
As habitat diminishes, the Conservancy's cross border work – which captures migratory birds’ scope of needs – becomes ever more important in ensuring the survival of these neotropical species. With sound science, support and partnerships, the Conservancy is working hard to keep these icons of spring flying high.