Cape-May-Warbler
Travel | Lake Erie Islands

8 Great Ohio Birding Spots

Whether you’re a fledgling bird-watcher or have a veteran’s eagle eye, these locations along the Lake Erie shore and its islands should be on your list.

Birders from near and far flock to northwest Ohio each year to witness the annual spring migration. The wetlands along the Lake Erie shore and its islands offer welcoming landing spots where migrating species can rest and eat before continuing on their journey. “Lake Erie has a rich supply of aquatic insects that are coming up out of the lake starting with midges early in the season,” says Lisa Brohl, chairman of the Lake Erie Island Conservancy, a preservation group for the island’s busiest birding sites. With the Biggest Week in American Birding set for May 4 through 13, we asked Brohl as well as author and conservationist Kenn Kaufman to share some of northwest Ohio’s can’t-miss bird-watching spots. 

Northwest Ohio birding map

The Lake Erie Islands

Scheeff East Point Nature Preserve • South Bass Island
Located at the easternmost point on South Bass Island, Scheeff East Point Nature Preserve is perfectly suited for birds needing to recuperate after a long flight. “A lot of times, those areas at the very edge are wooded and provide cover for migratory birds,” says Brohl. “Birds will sometimes build up there until they can start migrating and moving again.” The compact 9-acre park’s proximity to Lake Erie provides a full menu of insects and great Lake Erie views, with feathered visitors seen here including warblers, waterfowl and other shorebirds. Visit website for directions. Put-in-Bay 43456, lakeerieislandsconservancy.org

North Pond State Nature Preserve • Kelleys Island
Take a stroll through this pristine wetland thanks to a mile-long boardwalk that provides views of herons and hawks before opening up onto a stretch of beach that’s famous for its waterfowl sightings. “Even if it’s not a big day for migration of the land birds coming into the spots, you’ll see a lot of waterbirds along the edge. It always pays off,” says Kaufman. Connected to Lake Erie by a channel, the 51-acre property is one of very few wetlands in the state not artificially maintained by dikes. Visit website for directions. Kelleys Island 43438, naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/northpond


Ottawa County 

Black Swamp Bird Observatory • Oak Harbor
Each May, thousands of spectators gather near the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and its surrounding marshland for the Biggest Week in American Birding. Songbirds, raptors, rails and shorebirds are easy to spot here. The “Window on Wildlife” within the observatory overlooks an array of bird feeders, some of which include birdbaths, waterfalls and other features. “If someone doesn’t feel like going out and doing a lot of walking, they can just sit there and see a big variety of birds coming in,” says Kaufman. 13551 W. St. Rte. 2, Oak Harbor 43449, 419/898-4070, bsbo.org

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area • Oak Harbor
This Oak Harbor wildlife park is deemed the warbler capital of the world. Thanks to its wetland habitat and abundance of low-hanging trees, the songbirds are brought down to eye level. “[At] other places, warblers tend to be tree toppers. There’s an ailment called ‘warbler neck’ that you get from looking at the tops of trees trying to see warblers,” says Kaufman. Bird lovers can venture through this 2,202-acre swamp forest along a 1.3-mile-long boardwalk, with multiple observation decks along the way. “Even when there are more than a thousand birders there, which happens in May, it’s not necessarily that crowded,” adds Kaufman. “… you can go there even when there are a thousand other people and find a spot where you’re looking at birds no one else is looking at.” 13229 W. St. Rte. 2, Oak Harbor 43449, 419/898-0960, wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/mageemarsh

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge • Oak Harbor
A mix of waterfowl and other migratory birds, as well as endangered and threatened species inhabit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge’s 6,500 acres. The area’s mix of coastal wetlands, grassland and wooded habitat makes it the perfect stop for all types of birds during their journey. Throughout the spring and summer, this nature preserve opens up an additional 7 miles of trails,  so visitors can observe specialty waterbirds, such as the snowy egret and American bittern, on either a guided or self-guided tour. “They’ve got a lot of different habitats they’re preserving for waterfowl and shorebirds,” says Brohl. 14000 W. St. Rte. 2, Oak Harbor 43449, 419/898-0014, fws.gov/refuge/ottawa

East Harbor State Park • Lakeside-Marblehead
East Harbor State Park has unlimited opportunities for year-round birding. Located on the Marblehead peninsula, this parkland is a mecca of wildlife habitat, with 7 miles of trails along the water’s edge, as well as meadows, marshes, shrublands, channel dunes and more. “It gets as many migrants as some place like Magee Marsh or Sheldon Marsh. [But,] they’re not quite as concentrated because the woods there are pretty large,” says Kaufman. Its 1,831 acres are most known for attracting sandpipers, gulls, terns and other shorebirds and waterfowl. Fallout — when inclement weather results in a pileup of birds in one area — is common to the state park during the spring and fall seasons. 1169 N. Buck Rd., Lakeside-Marblehead 43440, 419/734-4244, parks.ohiodnr.gov/eastharbor


Erie County

Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve • Huron
Old Woman Creek, one of the remaining natural estuaries in Ohio (a body of water where a river meets a lake or sea) offers a mix of freshwater marsh, beach, swamp and upland forests over nearly 500 acres. Being a transition zone gives this shoreline reserve an advantage in attracting birds well past the migratory season. “You have this river flowing and winding around through there, sort of twisting and turning before it empties out into the lake,” says Kaufman. “It’s interesting for nature in general … This is now one of the better places in the whole country to see numbers of bald eagles.” 2514 Cleveland Rd., East Huron 44839, wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/oldwomancreek

Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve • Huron
Although Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve has seen more than 300 visiting bird species, this 472-acre park still remains a relative secret. Its upland fields, hedgerows, cattail marsh and other habitats are a perfect place to spend a quiet spring day. From the observation platforms, visitors can look out over marshlands before making their way onto the boardwalk that connects to a barrier beach. “Along the waterfront is a good place for watching gulls and shorebirds,” says Brohl. “As you walk through the woods at Sheldon, it’s also good for warblers, thrushes and more.” 2715 Cleveland Rd., Huron 44839, 614/265-6561, naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/sheldonmarsh

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The Big Time 
The Biggest Week in American Birding runs May 4 through 13 this year. The annual gathering of birders, who travel from far and near to witness the spring songbird migration, has lots of options for walks, talks and other ways to commune with our feathered friends. For more information on these events and more, visit biggestweekinamericanbirding.com.

Young Birder Walk: May 5 & 12
Family Bird Walk: May 13
Bring your little ones and a pair of binoculars to join in the Magee Marsh Young Birder Walk or the Family Bird Walk at Pearson Metropark. Magee Marsh, 13229 W. St. Rte. 2, Oak Harbor 43449; Pearson Metropark, 761 Lallendorf Rd., Oregon 43616 

Beginner’s Bird Walk: May 5, 6 & 12
Can’t tell the difference between a warbler and a thrush? Not even sure what the two mean? Head to the Beginner’s Bird Walk to learn the basics of birding, from identification tips to finding the right binoculars. Pearson Metropark, 761 Lallendorf Rd., Oregon 43616 

23rd Annual Big Sit: May 12
Birding expert Tom Bartlett sits on the west end of the boardwalk for 12 hours to raise funds for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s education programs. He’ll keep a tally of his sightings, so you can also discover what species are in the area. Magee Marsh, 13229 W. St. Rte. 2, Oak Harbor 43449 

Birding Point Pelee National Park: May 10 & 17
Ride the Jet Express ferry for a self-guided tour of Point Pelee National Park, a world-class birding site that’s recorded 80 percent of Ontario’s native species. Jet Express, 3 N. Monroe St., Port Clinton 43452 

Birding by Canoe: May 7, 9, 11 & 13
Paddle through Maumee’s Green Creek to witness 2 miles of warbler-filled habitat, before traveling into Mud Creek Bay to spot the waterfowl within its marshland. Maumee Bay Lodge, 1750 State Park Rd. #2, Oregon 43616