Keeping an eye on what flies

sandhill cranes
Observers reported 357 sandhill cranes in Ohio. (Submitted photo)

The annual return of wintering birds to their ancestral breeding and summering grounds is in full-flight. Many folks have begun putting out their hummingbird feeders in the hopes of capturing bragging rights for spotting the first returnee to reestablish nesting sites. Others can’t wait to try their hand at unraveling the mystical identities of woodland warblers hiding among unfolding leaves.

There are also wetlands, rivers, marshes and lakes that draw waterfowl and wetland birds with bird watching enthusiasts flocking to these areas as quickly as the birds. Their hope is to spot a vagabond from another flyway or a rare resident whose numbers have suffered due to habitat shifts.

Watchers know that some birds are just passing though during their continued journeys and that the chance for observation is short while other species are settling in until winter whispers its own return.

Birding continues to increase in popularity and like many hobbies can be as involved as you wish to make it.

The initial interest is often born from setting out a bird feeder or is an expansion of other outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, hiking and hunting. It’s often passed down by an interested friend or relative as well as from a nudge resulting from an ecological education.


One friend learned to hunt turkeys with his grandfather. He liked to tell the story of his own constant whispering, “Grandpa, what bird is singing? Grandpa, is that black and white bird a woodpecker? Grandpa, why is that bird climbing upside down?”

Grandpa explained that being quiet was an important tactic when trying to bring old Tom into range, but the questions persisted during their hunts.

His grandfather was a smart man, as many grandfathers seem to be. A future turkey hunting trip was accompanied with another barrage of questions, but Grandpa was ready with an answer.

He put a finger to his lips and slipped a Peterson’s Field Guide out of his jacket. In it were the words, “For times of quiet learning.” That book is now displayed on another grandfather’s wall beneath an array of turkey-tail fans and photos.

That’s how learning often starts, an interest fanned by an experienced hand. The greatest part about wildlife and bird watching is that it can be a low-cost avenue of enjoying local resources or a passion that leads to expensive optics and extensive travel.

The experience enhances respect and understanding and can be an extension of existing pursuits. You choose the depth of your own involvement, and age is of no consequence.

Ohio spots

Once that fascination has been spurred, there’s the question of where to travel to see new and interesting species that can be added to that “I’ve seen one of those” life lists. Fortunately, there are plenty of spots in Ohio that you can explore.

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, located in both Wyandot and Marion Counties, is a 9,230-acre complex of wetlands and upland sites. Northern harriers, short-eared owls and a multitude of waterfowl pass through while American bald eagles supervise their travels. Keep an eye out for Sandhill cranes and look for the tundra and trumpeter swans that often lay over in large numbers.

The 3,200-acre Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area in Sandusky County is another great birding destination. Watch for bald eagles and a large variety of waterfowl loafing around the area. There will also be plenty of opportunity to watch egrets and other shallow water stalkers looking for a meal. Much of the area has been restored to wetlands with the remainder in woods, scrub-shrub and native grassland.

If you take a drive to Holmes and Wayne Counties, you’ll find Ohio’s largest remaining marshland complex outside of the Lake Erie region. The 5,671-acre Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area is in a shallow, U-shaped glacial outwash valley. More than half is made up of marsh and is a magnet for migrating birds.

There’s also that birder’s trio of sites that just can’t be ignored by any serious enthusiast. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (2,202-acres), Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (6,500-acres) and the adjoining wildlife area are all nestled along Lake Erie’s shoreline.

Magee offers 1.3 miles of boardwalk and observation decks while the refuge adds another 7 miles of trails. This area also hosts the Division of Wildlife’s outstanding Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center which has been freshly refurbished and rededicated during 2023 and is now known as the Magee Marsh Visitor Center.

While you’re exploring nearby wildlife and bird-watching areas, don’t forget Andreoff Wildlife Area in Hardin and Wyandot Counties. Purchased with funds from the H2Ohio program, this 861-acre wildlife haven consists of wetlands, tall-grass prairies and woodlots.

Over 86 species of birds are known to breed in the area and nearly 175 species have been sighted, including several rare waterbirds. You’ll have chances to spot sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, American bittern, green-winged teal and king and sora rails. Hard to find species such as the northern harrier, bobolink and dickcissel frequent the prairies, along with countless pollinator species. Andreoff is open to wildlife viewing on the first and third Sunday of each month.

Also, consider Big Island Wildlife Area. This 5,872-acre natural resource is located 5 miles west of Marion on Ohio 95, is a birdwatchers’ paradise and is the largest wetland area on public land in Ohio. A wildlife viewing deck located along State Route 95 provides an excellent view of the open prairie and wetland habitat and the numerous birds that occupy these areas.

There are many other local, private and public areas which draw migrating birds. These include other wildlife areas, county and state parks, riparian waterways, farm edges and conservation plantings to explore — with permission, of course.

It’s also wise to be careful while visiting areas containing state or federal refuges. Access can be restrictive or off-limits. Anyone caught creeping into restricted zones are apt to get an expensive education.

So, grab your binoculars, spotting scope, camera and your identification book and explore the next surprise that the spring winds push into our area. And if you have some kid full of questions, give them something for times of quiet learning.

“Get all the education you can, then add the learning.”

— Jack Miner

Miner was born in Dover Center, now, Westlake, Ohio. He established the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada in 1904 where he pioneered waterfowl banding and was one of the first to determine the migratory paths of birds.

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Jim Abrams was raised in rural Columbiana County, earning a wildlife management degree from Hocking College. He spent nearly 36 years with the Department of Natural Resources, most of which was as a wildlife officer. He enjoys hunting, fly fishing, training his dogs, managing his property for wildlife and spending time with his wife Colleen. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via e-mail at



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