COLUMBUS — Birds and bird watching opportunities flourish during the winter on Ohio Division of Wildlife properties. State wildlife areas feature large tracts of habitat managed for wildlife and are open year-round for people to enjoy wildlife.
In winter, wildlife areas host birds such as bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, saw-whet owls, short-eared owls and trumpeter swans. If you want to get a better view of these species, the Division of Wildlife has resources available to assist visitors to these areas, including free maps at wildohio.gov. Also keep an eye out for visitors from northern latitudes such as common red-polls, evening grosbeaks, snowy owls, pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife recommends the top 10 wildlife areas where wintertime bird watchers may want to consider visiting. Keep in mind that these areas also welcome hunters, and hunting season for white-tailed deer and other species is underway. Wearing blaze orange clothing as a safety precaution is recommended. Hunting season dates and other regulations are listed at wildohio.gov.
– Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area (Wyandot and Marion counties): Watch for northern harriers and short-eared owls. This 9,230-acre wildlife area lies in the grain farming country of north-central Ohio near Upper Sandusky. Much of this area lays flat with little natural drainage and is a mixture of grasslands and wetlands with some woods, scrub-shrub areas, and ponds.
– Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area (Sandusky County): Watch for bald eagles and waterfowl. This 3,200-acre wildlife area lies between Sandusky and Fremont on the south shore of Sandusky Bay. Much of the area has been restored to wetlands with the remainder in woods, scrub-shrub, and native grassland.
– Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area (Holmes and Wayne counties): Watch for bald eagles, sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans. This 5,671-acre wildlife area extends north from Holmesville near Wooster. The area is in a shallow, U-shaped glacial outwash valley. More than half of the area consists of marsh and swamps, and it is Ohio’s largest remaining marshland complex outside of the Lake Erie region.
– Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area (Trumbull County): Watch for bald eagles, tundra swans, and waterfowl. This 9,021-acre wildlife area is north of Warren and to the west of Mosquito Creek Reservoir. Most of the area is extremely flat and poorly drained. Nearly half of the area consists of second growth hardwoods and the remainder of the habitat managed for nesting and migrant waterfowl. The major water areas include Mosquito Creek Reservoir, 830 acres of marsh, and two ponds.
– Appalachian Hills Wildlife Area (Morgan, Muskingum, and Noble counties): Watch for northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls, and golden eagles. This newly designated area is the largest wildlife area owned by the Division of Wildlife. Much of this property is reclaimed from strip mining. The expansive public lands at Appalachian Hills provide habitat for declining grassland nesting bird species.
– Crown City Wildlife Area (Lawrence and Gallia counties): Watch for barn owls, sharp-shinned hawks and short-eared owls. This 11,119-acre area is located in the unglaciated region of southern Ohio. The terrain, dissected by numerous small streams, is rolling to rugged. This reclaimed strip mine has mixed forestland with grassy fields. The area is designated by The Audubon Society as a Globally Important Bird Area for its importance as a breeding area for many species of grassland birds.
– Saint Marys State Fish Hatchery (Auglaize County): Watch for waterfowl and sandhill cranes. The hatchery is located on more than 150 acres on the eastern shore of Grand Lake St. Marys. The hatchery has 26 ponds with 43 water acres.
– Spring Valley Marsh Wildlife Area (Greene County): Watch for sandhill cranes, northern harriers and bald eagles. This 842-acre wildlife area is situated in the gently rolling agricultural region just east of the Little Miami River, near Xenia and Waynesville. The area is intermixed with permanent meadows, brushy fencerows, coverts and woods. A 150-acre lake and marsh complex are located on the area’s south edge.
– Big Island Wildlife Area (Marion County): Watch for rough-legged hawks, bald eagles, short-eared owls and waterfowl. This 5,872-acre wildlife area is near Marion on state Route 95. Most of the area is grasslands and meadows with smaller forests, ponds, potholes and wetlands. A wildlife observation deck is off state Route 95 for viewing across the marsh and grasslands.
– Deer Creek Wildlife Area (Fayette, Madison, and Pickaway counties): Watch for bald eagles and northern harriers. This 4,220-acre wildlife area is near Mount Sterling and adjacent to the 1,277-acre Deer Creek Lake with a mixture of woods, prairie grasses, wildlife food plots and riverine habitat. Two wetlands are located on the southern end of the property with an elevated accessible observation blind nearby. A trail on the northern end provides easier walking through grassland and cropland habitat.
Visitors to Ohio wildlife areas are encouraged to be mindful of areas closed to the public, such as state and federal refuges where proper signage is displayed. Follow the American Birding Association’s Code of Birding Ethics at aba.org.
Consider these additional resources to help enhance your bird watching experience: Common Birds of Ohio field guidebook and Birds of Ohio field checklist, both available at wildohio.gov, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird online database and mobile app. The platform offered by eBird provides users an opportunity to serve as citizen scientists by contributing valuable information regarding bird populations.
Connect with the Division of Wildlife through Twitter and Facebook for instant news stories, outdoor recreation ideas, and local wildlife information. The Your Wild Ohio Explorer Facebook page provides wildlife watching tips and useful information as you get outside this season.
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