Stories in Ohio

Year-round 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.

Big Darby Headwaters
Big Darby Headwaters Big Darby Headwaters © Eric Albrecht

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 winter visitors to our preserves!

A Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) in early winter.
Red-bellied Woodpecker A small patch of red is on the lower abdomen, but it is difficult to see. Males have red on top of the head and the neck while females have red only on the back of the neck. © 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. Year-round residents at this preserve: red-tailed hawkred-headed woodpeckerred-bellied woodpeckerblack-capped chickadeeAmerican goldfinchsong sparrowfield sparrowwild turkey, and American tree sparrow.

A close-up look at the majestic bald eagle.
Bald Eagle A close-up look at the majestic bald eagle. © Ohio Department of Natural Resources

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. Year-round visitors at this preserve: Canada goosemallardbald eaglering-billed gullBonaparte’s gullhorned larktrumpeter swan, and swamp sparrow.

A common visitor to any place in Ohio with  many trees.  It can often be seen creeping head first down tree trunks.
White-breasted Nuthatch A common visitor to any place in Ohio with many trees. It can often be seen creeping head first down tree trunks. © Dave Carruth/CC BY NC 2.0

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. Year-round visitors at this preserve: song sparrowwild turkeyred-shouldered hawkwhite-breasted nuthatchtufted titmousechickadeeruffed grouse, and bald eagle.

 

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) in early winter.
Black-capped Chickadee Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) in early winter. © Chris Helzer/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. Year-round visitors at this preserve: mallardgreat blue heronred-tailed hawkAmerican kestrelpileated woodpeckerblack-capped chickadee, and belted kingfisher.

A type of woodpecker whose identifying features include yellow feathers that show underneath, along with a white rump.  Males have the black 'mustache' marking.
Northern Flicker A type of woodpecker whose identifying features include yellow feathers that show underneath, along with a white rump. Males have the black 'mustache' marking. © Susan Young/CC Public Domain 1.0

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. Year-round visitors at this preserve: downy woodpeckerhairy woodpeckerpileated woodpeckerred-bellied woodpeckerred-headed woodpeckernorthern flickerblack-capped chickadeegreat horned owlbarred owltufted titmousewhite-breasted nuthatch, and song sparrow.

 

A watchful eye from an eastern screech owl perched in a tree.
Eastern Screech Owl A watchful eye from an eastern screech owl perched in a tree. © AndyCannizzaro_CC BY 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. Year-round visitors at this preserve: red-tailed hawknorthern flickerscreech owldowny woodpeckerwhite-breasted nuthatchCarolina chickadee, and wild turkey.

 

The Nature Conservancy uses hunting as a management tool to keep plant communities healthy and diverse.
Wild Turkey Wild turkey often can be seen in groups. They do not migrate, but rather adapt to the seasons. © iStock.com/merma1d

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. Year-round visitors at this preserve: wild turkeyred-bellied woodpeckerAmerican crowCarolina wrenAmerican kestrel, and great horned owl.

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