Summer Birding in Ohio
Why go birding? For starters, it’s a great excuse to spend time outdoors and connect with nature—something that is proven to make people happier.
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 birding at each of the Conservancy’s eight 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 desire to learn and observe. A pair of binoculars, a birding guide, and maybe a camera or notepad to capture the birds you’ve spotted are great tools to help you become a successful birder.
So pick a preserve and get out there. Nature is waiting.
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. Species you’ll spot here in the summer: lark sparrow, Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager, alder flycatcher, willow flycatcher, gray catbird, blue-winged warbler, yellow-breasted chat, indigo bunting, sandhill crane, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, and blue-gray gnatcatcher.
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. A pair of bald eagles created a nest nearby that you can see from the preserve. They enjoy the abundant supply of fresh-caught fish and wildlife of the wetlands. Species you'll spot here in the summer: killdeer, common tern, marsh wren, pied-billed grebe, American bittern, least bittern, great egret, common gallinule, yellow warbler, indigo bunting, bobolink, dickcissel, and Baltimore oriole.
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. Species you'll spot in the summer: wood duck, scarlet tanager, hooded warbler, cerulean warbler, common yellow throat, swamp sparrow, wood thrush, veery, great-crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, eastern bluebird, tree swallow, and bobolink.
J. Arthur 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. Species you'll see here during the summer: wood duck, killdeer, eastern wood-pewee, willow flycatcher, alder flycatcher, red-eyed vireo, warbling vireo, veery, yellow warbler, brown creeper, and chimney swift.
The 100-acre Brown’s Lake Bog Preserve 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. Species you'll see here during the summer: yellow-billed cuckoo, red-headed woodpecker, yellow-throated vireo, white-eyed vireo, gray catbird, wood thrush, common yellowthroat, red-winged blackbird, and indigo bunting.
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 in central Ohio. More than 100 species have been documented within this region of Big Darby Creek. Species you'll see here during the summer: white-eyed vireo, wood thrush, gray catbird, great crested flycatcher, yellow-breasted chat, willow flycatcher, red-eyed vireo, and brown thrasher.
The Lucia S. Nash Preserve opened to the public in summer 2020. It is a 650-acre preserve that protects Snow Lake, one of the last remaining kettle lakes in Ohio, along with the surrounding wetlands. This preserve sits within the larger 20,000 acre complex of boggy bottomland known as Cuyahoga Wetlands. Snow Lake and wetlands, paired with the preserve's upland forest create an attractive mix of habitats for birds.
The newly created Barbara A. Lipscomb Trail winds through the different habitats and connects to a floating boardwalk and overlook of the lake. There are many opportunities to see and hear the local wildlife. A pair of sandhill cranes have been spotted out on the lake, along with trumpeter swans, and other waterfowl. Some other birds to watch for are bald eagle, hermit thrush, marsh wren, sedge wren, cerulean warbler, least bittern, Virginia rail, Canada warbler, yellow-bellied sapsucker, wood duck, osprey, wild turkey, and great blue heron.
The Nature Conservancy’s 20,000-acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve System is a crown jewel of southern Ohio’s forests. It is made of many connected smaller preserves. 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. With five unique trails and over 27 miles of available hiking, you'll be able to discover birds you might not see anywhere else. Species you'll see here during the summer: cerulean warbler, prairie warbler, worm-eating warbler, Kentucky warbler, pine warbler, blue-winged warbler, Chuck-Will’s-widow, whip-poor-will, ruffed grouse, blue grosbeak, black vulture, grasshopper sparrow, and Henslow’s sparrow.