Witness northwest Ohio’s spring migration phenomenon that draws more than 90,000 visitors to our region each year!
By Cathy Miller
Posted On May 12, 2023
Northwest Ohio is recognized as one of the best birding areas in North America, especially during spring migration. Check out our guide to make the most of your birding adventures!
You may be surprised to find that birding is one of the top attractions in the Toledo region. Remarkably, tens of thousands of visitors converge on northwest Ohio each spring from all 50 states, 54 countries and 6 continents. Amazing, right? The folks over at Black Swamp Bird Observatory aren’t surprised. They knew the natural phenomenon of the spring bird migration could turn the Lake Erie shoreline and beyond into a tourism mecca, so they launched The Biggest Week in American Birding in 2009 and are proud to be celebrating their 14th year May 5-14, 2023, headquartered at Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center.
What is The Biggest Week in American Birding?
The Biggest Week in American Birding is a 10-day festival in northwest Ohio, where visitors immerse themselves in spring songbird migration and experience some of the best birding North America has to offer. The festival has something for the beginner and seasoned birders alike, with bird identification workshops, guided birding hikes, beginning birder outings, birding by kayak and boat, keynote presentations, a Birder’s Marketplace, and evening socials. Please note that the festival events sell out early each year. Visit www.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com for a list of events that are open to the public.
Warblers...The Star of the Show
Birders and nature lovers will enjoy viewing the flocks of songbirds and waterfowl during the annual spring migration, but the majority of visitors are here to witness the star of the show, the small but mighty warbler. Birders travel far and wide to gather on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh (known as the area’s birding epicenter) with their binoculars, cameras and checklists to keep a tally of their treasured warbler sightings, hoping to get a glimpse of that elusive warbler yet to make their list.
What Makes Northwest Ohio a Birding Mecca?
According to the folks that head up the Black Swamp Observatory in Oak Harbor, northwest Ohio is simply the best place to witness the spring migration of songbirds anywhere in North America. Lake Erie acts as a barrier that the birds are reluctant to cross during migration. The birds gather in marshlands on the lake’s southern edge to refuel and rest before crossing Lake Erie. In addition, the trees are just beginning to bud and the visibility of the birds is exceptional. Birders may see up to 20 species of warblers along with thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, orioles, eagles and shorebirds.
Great Birding at Metroparks Toledo
Metroparks Toledo has an abundance of birding hot spots of their own. Oak Openings and Pearson offer the best examples of bird migration in the Toledo area. Oak Opening’s unique habitat of sand dunes and wet swales is the nesting place of bluebirds, indigo buntings, whippoorwills and many other species, as well as an excellent location to see migrating songbirds in the spring. Pearson is a favorite stopover for the wide variety of migrating birds with its thick woods and location close to Lake Erie. Toledo Botanical Garden’s lush gardens, abundant trees and water features attracts plenty of warblers in the spring. In addition, a fall migration of hawks often passes through the park. Howard Marsh, located near Lake Erie, is a magnet for shorebirds and waterfowl.
Birding Tips and Guidelines
- Anytime from mid-April through May is great for birding, but typically peak migration occurs during the first two weeks of May. This is when you are most likely to see the greatest numbers and species. As the leaves bloom throughout May, it is more of a challenge to spot warblers.
- The key to spectacular bird watching is weather! When there are good southwest winds with a sharp increase in temperature as a front moves in, one is most likely to witness the heaviest migration.
- You don’t have to sign up for The Biggest Week in American Birding to join in on the fun! Destination Toledo has created a website page devoted to birders who are planning a journey to our area for the spring or fall migration: Birding Hot Spots.
- For a great resource with the latest birding information, including current sightings, predictions for migration and more, visit the Black Swamp Bird Observatory
Not sure birding is your thing? Don’t count yourself out! All it really takes is a love of nature to enjoy a day of birding. It provides an opportunity to surround yourself with wildlife and get some exercise. Who knows? You might find yourself a new favorite pastime!
The Biggest Week in American Birding will be taking place May 4-May 15, 2023 and is headquartered at Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center with a great schedule of events and festivities. Visit www.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com for details on events available to the public and don’t forget to share your sightings and photos with us @ToledoCVB and use #ThisIsToledo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Photos courtesy of The Biggest Week in American Birding: facebook.com/TheBiggestWeekInAmericanBirding