The Great Migration

The Biggest Week in American Birding is fun, educational and special.

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In mid April, songbirds migrating north travelled through NW Ohio.  Soon after, the warblers arrive. Thousands of birds composed of many species rest and replenish energy reserves along the southern border of Lake Erie where trees, berry bushes and ground cover provide perfect resting and feeding resources that the birds require to complete their migration.

The Migration

Migrating songbirds typically begin arriving early in the spring with the greatest numbers peaking in early May. By the end of May most migrants will be gone, but other very interesting and beautiful migrating birds will be present through the end of June. Each wave of migrants stays for a week or so preparing their tiny bodies for the next expenditure of energy for their migration before, during the night, they continue their migration to northern breeding grounds.  It is amazing to know that some warblers’ migration begins as far away as Central South America,  so the journey is a long and often dangerous trek.  The warblers’ and songbirds’ migratory route is influenced by geographical features and atmospheric conditions.  The birds know where the stopping points are and sense the weather and sunlight. 

Photo credit Tasso Cocoves ©

In a single day, an experienced birder may see 20-30 different warbler species at one location in the Magee Marsh. As the various species arrive at different times, birders re-visiting the same site on different days will yield a new suite of species. Warblers are small, colorful, and vocal insect-eaters and everyone, whether they are experienced or not, can see many varieties of warblers as they are often low in the foliage and too busy foraging for insects to worry about people. Will McKnight, a local, expert birder shared this tip for knowing you saw a warbler, “when you train your camera on it, it is gone!”

Seeing the Birds

A local biologist-birdwatcher, Tasso Cocoves, comments on the  opportunity people have to view migrating songbirds in NW Ohio, “These species evolved to make this annual migration for millennia, and many of the species seen here are suffering population declines throughout their range. I hope that those observing these beautiful birds
recognize the need to protect and conserve natural areas that are essential for
these species to exist.”

Photo credit Tasso Cocoves ©

Viewing the birds, and in particular, the warblers, is addictive.  In Lucas County, at parks with boardwalks, you can get quite close – sometimes within a few feet. The beautiful, busy birds are fun to watch and compare. The parks are well set up for the many people who come to see the warblers.  It is generally very quiet with an occasional burst of excitement when someone spots a rarer warbler.

The Birders

Birders come in as many forms and shapes as the birds themselves.  A common birder trait is the love of sharing their experiences and knowledge to help others see the birds. It is the welcoming culture surrounding nature and birdwatching that allows anyone and everyone to enjoy the Biggest Week In American Birding!

Thank you to the Black Swamp Observatory

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), co-organizers of the Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB) focused on the warbler migration, provides free information (donations are accepted and appreciated), including an helpful field guide containing information and photos of 30+ birds you may see.  Their location is just inside the entrance to Magee Marsh, 13551 W. SR 2, Oak Harbor, OH 43449.  Call 419-898-4070 or go to their website at bsbo.org to learn more about their organization.

Due to COVID-19, some of the parks may not be open for thousands of birders coming for the Biggest Week this year. Up to date information about the biggest week is found at biggestweekinamericanbirding.org. That site will also link you to virtual tours being offered this year.

When to go?

May 6-10 is the Biggest Week in American Birding, an organized event.  

Various species will be migrating through the area until mid-June.

Viewing is best in the early morning or mid- afternoon. 

What to Take?

Binoculars (you will be able to see birds without binoculars, but magnifying the view is helpful). 

Comfortable, layered clothing

Hat

Camera

Water bottle

Where to go?


Magee Marsh Wildlife Area

Mageemarsh.org

Rt. 2, Oak Harbor, OH

Boardwalk and trails

Due to Covid, the boardwalk will be closed but the adjacent trails will be open.


Maumee Bay State Park

1400 State Park Rd., Oregon, OH  43616

Ohiodnr.gov

Boardwalk and trails


Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

1400 OH-2

Oak Harbor, OH  43449

419-898-0014

fws.gov/refuge/ottawa

Trails


Howard Marsh Metropark

611 S. Howard Rd.

Curtice, OH 43412

419-360-9178

Metroparkstoledo.com

Boardwalk and trails


Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area

Off Bono Rd

Bono, OH 43412

419-424-5000

Parking pull-offs, trails


Crane Creek State Park

13229 OH-2

Oak Harbor, OH  43449

419-898-0960

Stateparks.com

Boardwalk and trails


 

Sad Note:  Will McNight, a local birding expert who was a source for this story, passed away soon after sharing his photos and tremendous knowledge for this article. A true gentleman. He will be missed.

 

 

 


Yellow Warbler 

Photo Credit William McNight ©

Yellow-rump Warbler

Photo credit William McNight ©

Prothonotary Warbler

Photo credit Tasso Cocoves ©

Cape May Warbler

Photo credit William McNight ©

Northern Water Thrush

Photo credit William McNight ©

Black and White Warbler

Photo credit William McNight ©