Stories in Ohio

Spring and Fall Birdwatching in Ohio

Why go birdwatching? For starters, it’s a great excuse to spend time outdoors and connect with nature—something that is proven to make people happier.

Overlooking the Ohio River through the trees at the Edge of Appalachia Preserve.
Smoky Hollow, EOA Overlooking the Ohio River through the trees at the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. © Terry Seidel/TNC

Since getting its start in Ohio in 1958, The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 60,000 acres of some of the state’s most important and beloved lands and waters. From the Appalachian forests in the south to Lake Erie’s coastal marshes in the north, we’ve protected a wide and varied spectrum of habitat types, which in turn support a rich diversity of bird species. This guide provides an introduction to bird life at each of the Conservancy’s seven publicly accessible preserves.

Why go birdwatching? For starters, it’s a great excuse to spend time outdoors and connect with nature—something that is proven to make people happier, healthier and smarter. It’s also an inexpensive hobby: All you really need to begin is a pair of binoculars, a birding guide and maybe a camera or notepad to capture the birds you’ve spotted.

So pick a preserve and get out there. Nature is waiting.

Want additional birdwatching opportunities? Check out the summer,  winter, and year-round visitors to our preserves!

Closeup of White Crowned Sparrow
White-crowned sparrow Common to see during spring and fall migrations along fencerows and open areas. © Robert Granzow.

Our Kitty Todd Preserve consists of nearly 1,200 acres of northwest Ohio’s Oak Openings Region. This complex of oak savanna and wet prairie developed on sand and clay deposited by glacial Lake Warren, the ancient predecessor of present-day Lake Erie. The combination of porous sandy soils of the former beach ridges and an impervious clay layer beneath those soils creates an unforgiving environment that fluctuates from flooding in the spring to arid in midsummer—creating a variety of habitat types for birds. All told, Kitty Todd is home to roughly 140 native bird species. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: Swainson’s thrushruby-crowned kingletyellow-bellied sapsuckerwhite-crowned sparrowpalm warblerTennessee warbler, and golden-winged warbler.

A Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) flying over Florida wetlands.
Snowy Egret Endangered in Ohio, but can be seen more readily in the Western Lake Erie Basin wetlands. © Kent Mason

Great Egret Marsh Preserve consists of more than 150 acres of marsh and surrounding upland in Ottawa County, across the road from East Harbor State Park. The preserve’s marshes are part of the West Harbor Basin, a long, narrow pool of Lake Erie backwater that geologists believe was once the channel of the Portage River. The natural productivity of the preserve’s coastal marshes makes it a haven for the millions of birds that feed and rest in the region each year during spring and fall migrations. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: gadwalllesser scaupAmerican wigeonEurasian wigeongreen-winged tealcommon goldeneyesnowy egretpalm warblerblack-bellied ploverAmerican golden-ploverdunlinstilt sandpiper, and Wilson’s snipe.

Male american wigeon swimming in calm water. The population of the wigeon declined by approximately 50 percent in the 1980 as a result of extended drought in prairie regions; have made a comeback and are widely hunted during fall.
American Wigeon Male american wigeon swimming in calm water. The population of the wigeon declined by approximately 50 percent in the 1980 as a result of extended drought in prairie regions; have made a comeback and are widely hunted during fall. © Gary S. Meredith

At 2,000 acres, Morgan Swamp Preserve is home to an abundance of wetlands, including swamps, bogs, beaver ponds and vernal pools. It’s part of a greater wetland system called the Grand River Lowlands, which got its start some 12,000 years ago when portions of northeastern Ohio’s Ashtabula and Trumbull Counties were occupied by a large glacial lake. These wetlands are critical to the health of the Grand River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, and are the backdrop for many of the 100 bird species that have been documented there. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: green-winged tealgadwallAmerican wigeonhooded merganserwhite-crowned sparrowbrown creeperrusty blackbird, and winter wren.

On the prairie
Bobolink A species of concern in Ohio. Like others in the blackbird family, you'll find them in grassy fields and prairies. © Mark Godfrey/TNC

Herrick Fen Preserve features unique geologic, hydrologic, biologic and physical features that resulted from the retreat of glaciers during the last ice age, some 12,000–14,000 years ago. The 140-acre preserve hosts two special fen communities and an upland beech-maple forest. An easy 1.5-mile loop trail traverses both habitat types and their intersections, which together support a variety of bird species. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: fox sparrowbobolinkBlackburnian warblersolitary sandpiperrusty blackbirdcave swallow, and brown creeper.

An American redstart warbler peeking through the fresh spring leaves.
American Redstart Warbler Often seen peeking through the leaves, they prefer understory shrubs when foraging for insects. © Angie Cole

The 100-acre Brown’s Lake Bog features glacial relict bog habitat, more than 20 rare plants and a plethora of resident and migratory birds. A one-mile-long hiking trail guides visitors through the bog and surrounding lowland swamp and upland kame forest. The Conservancy is working to maintain the existing open bog mat in order to support a wide array of plants and wildlife, including native bird species. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: Swainson’s thrushblack-and-white warblerAmerican redstartBlackburnian warbler, and blue-headed vireo.

Male magnolia warblers have a black mask across its eyes with a white stripe just above its eyes along with distinctive black stripes down its yellow chest.
Magnolia Warbler Male magnolia warblers have a black mask across its eyes with a white stripe just above its eyes along with distinctive black stripes down its yellow chest. © Angie Cole

This 800-acre Big Darby Headwaters Preserve encompasses a mixture of wetlands, streamside forests and old fields. The Conservancy has carefully restored the natural meandering flow of the headwaters of Big Darby Creek, improving the water quality of the mainstem, which is a popular corridor for many birds. More than 100 species have been documented within this region of Big Darby Creek. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: veerySwainson’s thrushyellow-bellied sapsucker , brown creeperNashville warblerblackpoll warblermagnolia warbler, and blue-headed vireo.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Rose Breasted Grosbeak These forage mostly in shrubs and trees. They sometimes hover over foliage or fly out to catch insects from mid-air. © Cheryl Rose

The Nature Conservancy’s 20,000-acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve is a crown jewel of southern Ohio’s forests. This area is one of the most biologically diverse collections of natural systems in the Midwest, encompassing rugged woodland, prairie openings, waterfalls, giant promontories and clear streams. This medley of habitat types supports a range of both breeding and migratory birds. More than 172 species of birds have been recorded at the preserve. Spring and fall migrants at this preserve: ruby-crowned kingletSwainson’s thrushCape May warblerbay-breasted warbler, and rose-breasted grosbeak.