Migratory Birds

Western Lake Erie Basin

Stopover sites are critical to the survival of migratory birds.

Each year as the weather warms, hundreds of millions of birds will make their annual trip north to the forests, prairies, streams, rivers and beaches of the United States and Canada.

En route to nesting grounds, these winged migrants will make many stops along the way, touching ground to rest and refuel in preparation for the next leg of their trip. These stopover sites, as they’re known, are critical to the survival of migratory birds, whose journeys can span thousands of miles. 

The Great Lakes region is critically important for all groups of migratory birds, whether they’re nesting or simply stopping by on their way through. Millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, song birds, and raptors utilize the area’s varied habits that provide an assortment of food, cover and roosting areas. 

In Ohio, the western basin of Lake Erie is a hotbed of migratory bird activity, supporting some of the largest numbers of land birds found during migration. 


The few remaining near-shore forests, shrublands, grasslands and marshes that define the shoreline of the western Lake Erie region provide a rich bounty of food that sustains a broad variety of migratory birds. 

  • The Nature Conservancy's Great Egret Marsh Preserve and Kitty Todd Preserve, along with other natural areas it's helped to protect, like Dupont Marsh, Irwin Prairie, Putnam Marsh, and Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, offer visitors the opportunity to explore unique shoreline habitats and the migrants that inhabit them.  
  • For a complete list of birding sites and trails, view the Lake Erie Birding Trail guide. 
  • The Nature Conservancy is part of the Biggest Week in American Birding, a 10-day festival in May hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.  This festival celebrates birding and features many workshops, tours and presentations. Register, get the guide & get ready for birding in the spring in Northwest Ohio. 
  • Each May the Conservancy and other partners of the Green Ribbon Initiative assemble Blue Week - a week-long celebration of the unique region. Enjoy birding among the lupines and Karner Blue butterflies.
Current Conservation Work

Populations of some migratory birds have declined drastically over the past 30 years, mostly due to habitat loss of the birds’ breeding and wintering grounds, as well as the loss of stopover sites along migration routes.  Scientists predict that ten percent of all bird species will become extinct by the end of this century. 

The Conservancy and its partners are working to protect what remains of the critically important shoreline of Lake Erie’s western basin through land acquisition, restoration and education efforts. 

  • To date, The Nature Conservancy and its partners at Ducks Unlimited and the USFWS's Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge have partnered to conserve and restore over 3,000 acres of Ohio's remnant coastal wetlands to ensure both quantity and quality of bird habitats in Western Lake Erie.
  • In 2016, the Conservancy is partnering with the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) on a Biggest Week Conservation Fund with 100% of the proceeds used for improving and expanding habitat for birds through projects and programs managed by the three organizations.
  • In 2013, The Nature Conservancy created Great Egret Marsh Preserve which consists of more than 150 acres of marsh and surrounding upland.  The preserve contributes to the Conservancy’s goal to protect and restore an additional 10,000 acres of coastal habitat along Lake Erie.
  • An innovative construction project repairs remaining coastal wetlands, reconnecting Erie Marsh after six decades being separated from the Great Lakes.
  • Conservancy scientists recently developed successful models to locate the different types of key stopover sites for landbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl along Lake Erie, and have used it to identify places still in need of protection.  The Western Lake Erie Coastal Conservation Vision project is helping The Nature Conservancy and  partners identify additional locations to expand and improve migratory bird stopover habitat that also has other conservation and social benefits.
  • The Great Lakes migratory bird stopover portal provides information on stopover sites and ecology withing the Great Lakes region to a variety of audiences, including natural resource managers, municipal planners, entities siting energy installations and other infrastructure, and even businesses interested in seeing where migratory bird and the birders they attract might be concentrated. This site also includes case studies of stopover habitat protection that have been completed at two Western Lake Erie Basin sites:  Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and DTE Energy River Rouge Power Plant.  These case studies illustrate results of conservation projects and how the protection was accomplished.
  • Because effective conservation efforts must occur at both ends of the migratory bird flyway, the Conservancy is protecting migratory bird habitat in Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean Islands, where many Ohio species overwinter.  Learn more about our Migratory Bird Program.
  • At just over 1000 acres, The Nature Conservancy’s Kitty Todd Nature Preserve is the centerpiece of the Oak Openings Region, a complex of oak savanna and wet prairie that supports an array of migratory birds, such as the red-headed woodpecker and cerulean warbler.