Northwest Ohio Birding Information

From Homebase in Ohio, "The Warbler Capital of the World," Kenn writes: 

We're coming up on the time of year when northwestern Ohio - specifically the Lake Erie shoreline in the area of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge - becomes one of the most exciting and popular destinations for birding in North America. Longtime Ohio birders may know all about birding this region, but this year some new sources of information are available. And new birders, in particular, might want to save this post to help with planning spring birding trips.
American Redstart
First, if you're not familiar with the area at all, there's an overview in this feature article that I wrote for Birding, the magazine of the American Birding Association, in 2010. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) provides many kinds of free information for visiting birders, including info on birding sites.

The single most famous local site is the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. This boardwalk winds for almost a mile through a small woodlot between the marshes and Lake Erie, and great concentrations of migrants can be seen along its length and along the edges of the adjacent parking lot. For easy communication about the locations of birds on the boardwalk, numbers are etched into the railing, so that birders can report things like "The Golden-winged Warbler is being seen at #20." To find these numbers, it's a good idea to carry a map that shows their locations.
This map is available for free downloading and printing; you can print out your own and stuff it in your pocket for quick reference.
And here's another free map that gives more of an overview of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
Black-and-white Warbler
These maps and others, plus other kinds of birding information, are also available for free at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. BSBO is located just north of Ohio State Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and the observatory will be open every day in May.
When is the best time to visit? For starters, here is a basic overview of the whole spring migration, from late February to early June. Every day in late April and May offers good birding here, but some days are much better than others. If you have flexibility in deciding when to visit, how do you pick your days? Well, during this season, some friends and I study the weather and try to predict which days will be best for seeing migrants. We post these predictions, along with reports on recent sightings, on this blog. As I write this, the most recent prediction says that this coming weekend, especially Sunday May 3, should produce a very good arrival of migrants.

BSBO runs a springtime bird festival called "The Biggest Week in American Birding," scheduled for May 8-17 this year. This festival has the effect of REDUCING the crowds on the Magee boardwalk, since we hand out maps and directions to many other local sites, and run field trips all over a four-county surrounding area. For anyone coming to bird in the area, even if they're not registered for the festival, there is a wealth of information to be found in the Biggest Week Visitors' Guide. Printed copies of the Guide can be picked up at many sites throughout n.w. Ohio, but it's also viewable online in digital form
Bay-breasted Warbler
It's worthwhile to consider registering for the Biggest Week even if you're not interested in any of the workshops, field trips, or programs. Registration entitles you to various discounts at local restaurants and other businesses, and gives you free access to some fun social events. Online registration for this year's event will close this Thursday night, April 30. Walk-in registration will be available throughout the event at both the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Lodge at Maumee Bay State Park, where the festival is headquartered.
In a brand new development this year, the Biggest Week has just become the first birding festival in North America to have its own dedicated bird-finding app. The sharp people at BirdsEye Nature Apps have developed a Biggest Week app. Although it's designed for the festival, it's already "live" and delivering information; you can click on a species and instantly see the locations of the most recent sightings in the area. It's available for both iPhone and Android, and it's free! 
Cerulean Warbler
If you're birding the area, you can also sign up to follow the Biggest Week on Twitter and have up-to-the-minute bird sightings sent straight to your smartphone. This blog post by Melissa Penta  talks about the Twitter feed, and links to information on how to have these tweets sent directly to your phone.

Finally, if you are coming to the area for birding, please stop at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for information and birding maps, and to check out the book store and "window on wildlife." The observatory will be open every day in May. BSBO works year-round to promote research, education, and conservation throughout Ohio and the surrounding regions, and it's a good organization for birders to know.


  1. We are so fortunate to have this resource in our area. I live in Cleveland and have already made one trip up there. Thank you for all your hard work and all the information you provide. Louisa

  2. Thanks so much for the positive feedback, Louisa! We're happy to know the information was helpful, and we appreciate you reading the blog and taking time to leave a comment. Good Birding, Kimberly and Kenn


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