IN THE CITY OR IN THE WOODS, THE SOUNDS AND SIGHTS OF SPRING ABOUND
Spring has found its voice as migrating neotropical songbirds begin returning to Ohio. Those sweet trills you’re hearing indicate the mass migration of southern songbirds is well underway.
Neotropical birds are those that breed in North America during the spring and summer months. In winter, they live in places such as Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Ohio’s first spring songbirds to appear include blue-headed vireos, pine warblers, and blue-gray gnatcatchers. As the weather becomes warmer, the flight of northbound neotropics increases. Numbers of yellow-rumped warblers appear, as do hermit thrushes, black-throated green warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, and chimney swifts.
The Baltimore oriole, a highly recognizable songbird, returns in late April whistling a clear, flute-like song. Its orange underside and glossy black top feathers make it a perennial favorite among bird watchers. Preferring habitats with large shade trees, the oriole is at home in open woodlands, suburban areas and parks.
Another highly anticipated returning migrant is the ruby-throated hummingbird. This incredibly small bird, weighing less than an ounce, beats its wings an average of 53 times per second in flight. It’s been estimated that the trip across the Gulf of Mexico requires 4 million wing beats!
This mass migration of songbirds is not normally seen because neotropicals migrate at night when most of their predators are sleeping. During migration, these birds face many challenges, including finding sufficient food and proper places in which to rest, build nests, and raise young. Ohio offers an abundance of quality habitat to meet those needs.
“Spring is an exciting time of the year for bird watching,” said SaraJean Peters, urban wildlife education officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “For backyard birders, the real secret is understanding that their yard provides significant habitat for birds on the move.”
May is the peak month for the flood of returning neotropical migrants. Some of the best birding opportunities occur along Lake Erie’s coast and wetlands where these tiny travelers stop briefly to feed and rest.
“Lake Erie is a staging area allowing birds to meet up, rest and forage before jumping north to Canada, Michigan, and New England,” said Dr. Bernard Master, a physician and member of the American Bird Conservatory.
Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve in Erie County and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Ottawa County offer a large concentration of warblers and other colorful songbirds. Sheldon Marsh alone is known to attract nearly 300 bird species.
Bird watching provides a low-cost, enjoyable outdoor experience. While songbirds can be seen in nearby community parks and woodlands, Ohio’s state parks, state nature preserves and state forests provide some of the best viewing opportunities. Designated Watchable Wildlife Sites are also great places to go birding.
If you’re interested in birding, but lack experience, now is a good time to plan an outing. By choosing a popular birding location chances are you’ll bump into some veteran birders who are willing to share their knowledge.
To receive a free Field Checklist for Birds of Ohio, you can call ODNR at (614) 265-6565. A complete list of Ohio’s Watchable Wildlife Sites can be viewed online at www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife.