Stories in Ohio

Winter 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.

Winter scene of snow capped branches and a snow covered trail.
Brown's Lake Bog Winter scene of snow capped branches and a snow covered trail. © Emily Speelman

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 migratory birds in spring and fall, as well as the summer and year-round visitors to our preserves!

 

Dark-eyed junco in winter
Dark-eyed junco Dark-eyed junco in winter © Chris Helzer/TNC

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. Winter visitors to this preserve: northern harrier and dark-eyed junco.

Northern Harrier in a winter forest.
Northern Harrier Often seen flying close to the ground in order to catch prey - small rodents in particular. © 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. Winter visitors at this preserve: tundra swanAmerican tree sparrowwhite-throated sparrowgreat black-backed gullAmerican black duckredhead, and northern harrier.

Bright yellow patches of feathers make this bird easy to identify.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler Bright yellow patches of feathers make this bird easy to identify. © Angie Cole

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. Winter visitors at this preserve: American tree sparrowjuncogolden-crowned kingletyellow-rumped warbler, and white-crowned sparrow.

A brownish bird with black and white stripes on the top of its head, a white throat and a yellow patch above each eye.
White-throated Sparrow A brownish bird with black and white stripes on the top of its head, a white throat and a yellow patch above each eye. © David Mitchell/CC BY 2.0

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. Winter visitors at this preserve: American tree sparrowwhite-throated sparrowdark-eyed juncogolden-crowned kinglet, and northern shrike.

A brown creeper crawling up a tree foraging for food.
Brown Creeper A brown creeper crawling up a tree foraging for food. © JenGoellnitz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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. Winter visitors at this preserve: dark-eyed juncowhite-throated sparrowAmerican tree sparrowgolden-crowned kinglet, and brown creeper.

A close-up of a golden-crowned kinglet showing the yellow patch of feathers on the top of its head that lends to its name.
Golden-crowned Kinglet A close-up of a golden-crowned kinglet showing the yellow patch of feathers on the top of its head that lends to its name. © Kenneth Cole Schneider, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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. Winter visitors at this preserve: dark-eyed juncoyellow-rumped warblergolden-crowned kingletAmerican tree sparrowwhite-throated sparrow, and northern harrier.

 

A pine siskin sits atop a rock. 
 Its mottled brown and white feathers with a hint of yellow on its wing, blend well with its surroundings.
Pine Siskin A pine siskin sits atop a rock. Its mottled brown and white feathers with a hint of yellow on its wing, blend well with its surroundings. © Nicole Beaulac, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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. Winter visitors at this preserve: hermit thrushyellow-bellied sapsuckerwinter wrenpine siskinfox sparrowgolden-crowned kingletwhite-throated sparrow, and junco.