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

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Let The Nature Conservancy Help You Find Great Birds Around the Great Lakes

TNC preserves provide habitat for migratory birds to rest and refuel.

Dublin, OH

Millions of birds will fly over the Great Lakes region this spring as they migrate north to their summer breeding grounds, but many populations of bird species are declining and in peril, according to ornithology experts at The Nature Conservancy.

Matt Williams, TNC’s director of conservation in Indiana, writes in his book “Endangered and Disappearing Species of the Midwest” that in the past 50 years alone, more than one-third of our bird species have declined by at least 15 percent, with many suffering declines of more than 70 percent. In total, these declines add up to a loss of 1.5 billion individual birds in just five decades.

Williams said the population decline of numerous bird species is caused by loss of habitat to agriculture and energy expansion, collisions with vehicles and structures, encounters with feral cats, changing forest conditions and climate change.

“Birds are so much more than just checkmarks on a birder’s life list,” Williams said. “They’re beautiful to watch, make music for our ears and provide benefits to all of us.”

In addition to providing natural benefits, such as eating millions of insects, dispersing seeds and pollinating crops, birds are big business to the Great Lakes, too. Birdwatchers spend an estimated $80 billion annually on cameras, binoculars, travel and other hobby-related expenses.

“Places like Toledo sell out of all their hotel rooms this time of year because of spring migration,” Williams said. “Tourism in the Great Lakes benefits greatly from birds.”

“If you took all the attendance from every NFL game and added the total attendance from every NBA game in 2017, that total still wouldn’t match the number of birdwatchers in the United States” he said, noting that professional football and basketball attendance is 39.3 million, and birders number 45 million.

Williams and TNC staff around the Great Lakes have worked together for decades to research, prioritize and protect priority habitat for birds to rest and refuel during their long migration in the spring and fall.  The coastal wetland complexes along Lake Erie in Ohio are especially inviting, given their location between agricultural lands in the northwest part of the state and the vast open-water expanse of Lake Erie. Here, migratory birds find safe habitat rich with forage, allowing them to replenish their depleted energy reserves and continue their migration.

Historically one of the most extensive and productive coastal wetland complexes in the Great Lakes, over the past two centuries more than 95% of wetlands have been lost in this part of Ohio, greatly reducing the area’s biological productivity, diversity and resilience.  TNC is protecting important habitat throughout the Western Lake Erie Basin through land acquisition, restoration, improved habitat management and more. To date, TNC has been involved in the restoration of more than 15,000 acres of Ohio’s coastal wetland habitat—including at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  

TNC preserves in the region include Great Egret Marsh Preserve in Marblehead and Kitty Todd Preserve, located about 15 miles west of Toledo. 

“If you want to see warblers, now is the time of year to visit Great Egret Marsh Preserve,” said Matt Kovach, Lake Erie coasts and islands project manager. “The preserve’s coastal marshes make it a haven for migratory warblers including yellow-rumped, Blackburnian, and American redstarts as well as shorebirds like dunlin and Wilson’s snipe.”   

For more information and to see pictures, a list of local events, a map and a video about birding in the Great Lakes, visit nature.org/greatlakesbirds.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, TNC works to create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to the world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. Learn more online about TNC’s work to protect habitat for migratory birds in the Great Lakes region at nature.org/greatlakesbirds.  

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.