My 10 Best Bird Watching Spots in Ohio You Should Try


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Ohio is a midwestern state between Indiana in the west and Pennsylvania in the east. In the north, some parts of the state border Lake Erie. There are many great places to bird watch in the state. I have written this blog to make it easier for you to know the best places for birding.

The best bird watching spots in Ohio are those on the edge of Lake Erie, such as Magee Marsh, Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve and Beach State Park, and Metzger Marsh Wildlife Areas. Spots with a range of habitats, such as at Oak Openings Preserve, are also good for birds.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 10 birding spots in Ohio:

PARKINTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE
Metzger Marsh WildlifeCaspian Tern and Common Gallinule
Sheldon Marsh State Nature PreserveCommon Yellowthroat and Red-shouldered Hawk
Buck Creek State ParkCommon Goldeneye and Great Horned Owl
Magee Marsh Wildlife AreaKirtland’s Warbler and Blackburnian Warbler
Killdeer Plains Wildlife AreaShort-eared Owl and Rough-legged Hawk
Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve and Beach State Park Bonaparte’s Gull and Red-breasted Merganser
Nature Conservancy’s Edge of Appalachia PreservePrairie Warbler and Scarlet Tanager
Oak Openings Preserve MetroparkBlack-billed Cuckoo and Broad-winged Hawk
Green Lawn Cemetery and ArboretumMerlin and Northern Saw-whet Owl
Fernald PreserveWood Duck and American Pipit
Best Places to Bird Watch in Ohio

Read on to learn the best places for watching birds in Ohio and the types of species you can find in each of these sites.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Ohio
Best Bird Watching Spots in Ohio

TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Ohio

Ohio is an excellent place for birding because a range of habitats allows birds to forage, nest, and rest.

  1. Metzger Marsh Wildlife

Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area is located on the edge of Lake Erie, a couple of miles east of Toledo. This 558-acre area is suitable for birds on the lake and the shrubbery that borders the lake. 

In fact, this is a good spot for migrating songbirds. The best place to see migrating warblers is in the wooded area next to the parking area.

Birds in the marshy areas here include Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, Sora, Common Gallinule, and Marsh Wren. Yellow-headed Blackbirds sometimes also occur in the refuge. 

If you visit in summer, you should also watch for terns; at least four species of terns are recorded here. You can find Black Terns, Forster’s Terns, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns. In fact, this is considered a reliable place to find Black Terns. When planning your visit here, you can print off a map of the area.

  1. Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve

This preserve is 465 acres in size and is also found along the edge of Lake Erie. The refuge includes wooded swamps, marshland, scrub, fields, sandy beaches, and open water.

There is parking for birders on Highway 6 and a path to the preserve. The types of bird species to look for in the marshland include the following: Marsh Wren, Sora, Common Yellowthroat, and Virginia Rail.

Raptors have been spotted before, including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures.

Passerines to look for in the preserve include the Common Yellowthroat. You can print a checklist for the area to use when birding here.

  1. Buck Creek State Park

This state park is close to C.J. Brown Reservoir, meaning many waterfowl can be observed. You can spot shorebirds in shallow areas of the lake and on muddy shores. At least 196 species of birds have been recorded at this park, according to ebird.

Waterfowl species at Buck Creek include Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and Northern Shoveler.

Other birds can be observed in the grasslands and agricultural fields. Bird species, such as Great Horned Owls, Northern Bobwhites, Savannah Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Scarlet Tanagers, and Summer Tanagers, can be seen in the park.

  1. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area

This wildlife area is a place I recommend if you want to catch sight of the spring migrants. It is situated on Lake Erie. The location on the lake’s edge is a big reason this is a good place for bird watching. 

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is an excellent spot to see migrating songbirds like warblers. There is also an annual birding festival in May, corresponding to when many songbirds are in the area. 

You can look for warblers during fall migration, but spring is preferable because the males have their breeding plumage and are likelier to be vocal. This makes identifying warbler species much more manageable, so I suggest visiting in spring if you want to add warblers to your life list. 

There is a road you can follow to go through the marsh and get to the shore of Lake Erie. There is also a boardwalk in the preserve to walk along, searching for migrant warblers and other bird species.

Bird species you can find in this wildlife area include the following: Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Palm Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler.

You should also look out for the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler, sometimes seen here in May. Bald Eagles and Black-crowned Night-Herons are often spotted in the region.

  1. Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area

This is a 9,320-acre grassland, prairie, woodlands, and wetlands area. The impoundments are good for finding a large number and variety of waterfowl. You can find species like the Hooded Merganser and Trumpeter Swan. 

Other waterfowl recorded at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area includes the following species: American Black Duck, Mallard, Redhead, Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, and Common Merganser. Sandhill Cranes have also been recorded in the refuge before.

This refuge is found north of Columbus and is a good place in winter for finding Short-eared Owls and Rough-legged Hawks. 

The Short-eared Owls like prairie habitats, and Rough-legged Hawks are commonly seen flying over open countryside. Northern Harriers can typically be seen flying over grassy areas and marshland.

  1. Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve and Beach State Park

This 25-acre park is east of Cleveland and situated on the edge of Lake Erie. The birds’ habitats include beaches, open water, dunes, and cottonwoods. Despite its size, the park is perfect for birds, with at least 300 species recorded here.

This birding hotspot is where you can see an abundance of warblers in spring and fall. Like many lake-side natural areas, the preserve and park attract migrating songbirds, which track along the edge of the Great Lakes.

Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs are found here in the winter. You should check the lake for Bonaparte Gulls and Red-breasted Mergansers if your trip is during winter. 

  1. Nature Conservancy’s Edge of Appalachia Preserve

This area is close to 18,000 acres in size. You can follow trails that are found east of Ohio Brush Creek. Birds found in the area include several warblers and other songbirds. 

Bird species you can see in this refuge include the following: Prairie Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Hooded Warbler. The beautiful tanagers, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, occur here, as do Blue Grosbeaks.

You can also find raptors, specifically Red-shouldered Hawks, in wooded areas near water. Barred Owls and Chuck-will’s-widows also reside in the preserve.

  1. Oak Openings Preserve Metropark

This is a 4000-acre preserve in Toledo. There is a range of bird habitats: wetlands, dunes, and oak savannah. There are several miles of hiking trails for you to take when out bird watching here.

Over 200 species have been recorded in the park, making this a great birding hotspot. A bird species checklist is available for the park. You can see Pileated Woodpeckers and Red-headed Woodpeckers in the trees. 

In summer, keep an eye out for cuckoos. The area has a record of Black-billed Cuckoos and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Other birds you can find here include the following species:

  • Broad-winged Hawk,
  • American Woodcock,
  • Barred Owl,
  • Acadian Flycatcher.

Warblers and sparrows can occur here in large numbers at various times of the year. Warblers, grosbeaks, and tanagers are present and easy to identify in spring. Look out for these species:

  • Blue-winged Warbler,
  • Pine Warbler,
  • Hooded Warbler,
  • Prairie Warbler,
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler,
  • Blue Grosbeak,
  • Scarlet Tanager,
  • Summer Tanager.

Grassy patches in the refuge are where you can see Lark Sparrows, Henslow’s Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows. 

  1. Green Lawn Cemetery and Arboretum

This area is 630 acres and is a perfect spot if you are a birder. This is a good spot during spring migration but also suitable for winter birds and fall migration. Some unusual species have been spotted here in winter, such as the Merlin and Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Spring migration is an excellent time to look for the warblers, tanagers, thrushes, and other songbirds moving through the area. Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, and Cooper’s Hawks breed in the area and can be seen regularly.

  1. Fernald Preserve

Fernald is a 1,050-acre preserve that is situated northwest of Cincinnati. There is much habitat diversity here, providing lots of opportunities for birds to feed, nest, and stop over on migration. You can bird in the preserve’s wetlands, grasslands, or forests.

The bird species you can find in the grassy regions of the refuge include the following species: Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, and Northern Bobwhite. 

It is a good refuge for nesting Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teals. American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, and Lesser Scaup have also been sighted in the waters. 

Besides these ducks, you can also find small passerines, such as Wilson’s Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers, and Northern Parulas.

Winter is an excellent time to bird watch in the open areas where you can see American Pipits, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Ohio

Ohio is always a good state for birders to visit. There are many opportunities to see birds regardless of the season. Some birds are more numerous or may visit only in certain months and seasons.

TYPES OF BIRDSSEASON
TernsSummer
SwansWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Ohio

The Ohio State Bird

Northern Cardinal - The State Bird of Ohio
Northern Cardinal – The State Bird of Ohio

The state bird of Ohio is the Northern Cardinal. Cardinals are conspicuous birds that are not secretive. You can often see these birds in pairs in gardens and woodlands. The male is bright red, while the female is brown; both have a crest on the head and a conical beak for cracking seeds.

The cardinals begin their nesting activity in spring when they build a cup-shaped nest. The nest can be placed in thick vegetation from 3 to 10 feet above the ground. 

Bird Watching Laws in Ohio

Birds are protected in Ohio, meaning that you cannot capture, transport, possess, or sell any of the wild indigenous birds. This protection extends to all birds except invasives such as the House Sparrow, European Starling, and pigeon (not the homing pigeon). 

Game birds are protected except during the open season.  Protection also does not extend to blackbirds that are destroying grain fields. A person may also not possess or hunt any eagle or osprey.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

Bird Watching Ethics

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.

Conclusion

Ohio is a midwestern state that has a lot to offer when it comes to bird watching. Because the northern part of the state borders Lake Erie, you can find some great places to see migrating songbirds in spring and fall.

The presence of various habitats, including wetlands, prairie, and woodlands, also makes for good bird watching in the state.

TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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