Hikers at Kitty Todd Preserve use binoculars to get a better look at the abundant wildflowers and wildlife.
Kitty Todd Nature Preserve Hikers at Kitty Todd Preserve use binoculars to get a better look at the abundant wildflowers and wildlife. © Angie Cole

Stories in Ohio

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.

Want additional birdwatching opportunities? Check out the migratory birds in spring and fall, as well as the winter and year-round visitors to our preserves!

Vibrant blue color of the Indigo Bunting makes it a treasure to spot.
Indigo Bunting Vibrant blue color of the Indigo Bunting makes it a treasure to spot. © Charles W. Prince, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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 sparrowBaltimore oriolescarlet tanageralder flycatcherwillow flycatchergray catbirdblue-winged warbleryellow-breasted chatindigo buntingsandhill cranered-eyed vireoovenbird, and blue-gray gnatcatcher.

The Conservancy’s Gila Riparian Preserve protects more than 1,200 acres of the Southwest’s fragile riparian habitat and the verdant gallery woodland along the Gila River.
Pied-billed Grebe You'll likely hear a pied-billed grebe before you see it. They like to chatter and have an unusual song. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

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: killdeercommon ternmarsh wrenpied-billed grebeAmerican bitternleast bitterngreat egretcommon gallinuleyellow warblerindigo buntingbobolinkdickcissel, and Baltimore oriole.

Male cerulean warbler
Cerulean Warbler A canopy species that likes to spend time at the tops of oak trees. © © Marja Bakermans

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 duckscarlet tanagerhooded warblercerulean warblercommon yellow throatswamp sparrowwood thrushveerygreat-crested flycatchereastern kingbirdeastern bluebirdtree swallow, and bobolink.

A Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) photographed late summer in the Washington, DC area.
Red-eyed Vireo One of the most common birds to see in Ohio woodlands. They are prolific singers and can be heard from dawn to dusk! © Timothy Boucher/TNC

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 duckkilldeereastern wood-peweewillow flycatcheralder flycatcherred-eyed vireowarbling vireoveeryyellow warblerbrown creeper, and chimney swift.

A red-headed woodpecker sits atop a post at the edge of the forest.
Red-headed woodpecker A red-headed woodpecker sits atop a post at the edge of the forest. © NickVarvel, CC BY 2.0

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 cuckoored-headed woodpeckeryellow-throated vireowhite-eyed vireogray catbirdwood thrushcommon yellowthroatred-winged blackbird, and indigo bunting.

The Yellow-breasted Chat offers a cascade of song in the spring, when males deliver streams of whistles, cackles, chuckles, and gurgles.
Yellow-breasted chat The Yellow-breasted Chat offers a cascade of song in the spring, when males deliver streams of whistles, cackles, chuckles, and gurgles. © Mick Thompson via Creative Commons License

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 vireowood thrushgray catbirdgreat crested flycatcheryellow-breasted chatwillow flycatcherred-eyed vireo, and brown thrasher.

Two large, light gray birds come in for a landing on the water with wings outstretched and legs ready to touch the water.
Sandhill Cranes Sandhill Cranes are common in other parts of the country, but are listed as endangered in Ohio. By protecting and managing wetlands like Snow Lake and the Lucia S. Nash Preserve, we hope to increase their numbers. © Glenn Seplak

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.

A grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) enjoys the results of a high-diversity prairie restoration.
Grasshopper Sparrow A grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) enjoys the results of a high-diversity prairie restoration. © Chris Helzer/TNC

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 warblerprairie warblerworm-eating warblerKentucky warblerpine warblerblue-winged warblerChuck-Will’s-widowwhip-poor-willruffed grouseblue grosbeakblack vulturegrasshopper sparrow, and Henslow’s sparrow.