birds

Had it not been for Ohio’s duck hunters, much of Ohio’s marshland, which is so important to both birding and hunting today, may well have been lost to development.

Birding vs. hunting

"There’s a singular reason that some of the best Lake Erie marshes in Ohio have been saved from destruction. One reason, two words: duck hunters. It sounds blunt and oversimplified, but from the viewpoint of wildlife, duck hunters saved the marshes.”

During settlement, the Buckeye State lost an estimated 95% of its original wetlands, much of that the Great Black Swamp, which once covered nearly all of northwestern Ohio and northeastern Indiana. That gigantic region was a haven for wildlife of all sorts — not just waterfowl — as the water slowly drained into the vast marshes that ringed the western edge of Lake Erie from Toledo to Sandusky.

Feathers from some birds, such as the great egret, were in such demand by the millinery trade that they were worth twice their weight in gold.

A feather in your cap?

Sometimes, it’s good to remember just how far we’ve come in wildlife conservation.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, bird feathers were the fashion fad in the millinery — hatmaking — trade. Some feathers, especially plumes from great egrets and snowy egrets, were in such demand that they were literally worth twice their weight in gold. During the 1890s alone, it’s estimated that 5 million birds were killed annually for their feathers. To make matters worse, those birds were taken almost exclusively during the breeding season, their eggs left to rot or their hatchlings to starve and die.

Preening woodcock

Sky dancer

Head outdoors with me after supper some evening during the month of April, and remember to take a jacket, as it will be chilly by the time we return after dark.

You’ll likely hear a woodcock long before spotting one, the sound beginning just after sunset. The woodcock’s call has been described as a single loud “peent” or “buzz,” spaced every few seconds. That usually continues for several minutes before the male finally takes wing in a spiral flight skyward, making a twittering sound as he climbs.  

Osprey in flight

The fish hawk with fish hooks for hands

The first time you see an osprey dive on a fish is one of those memorable birding moments that last a lifetime. With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, ospreys are not small birds of prey.

As it flies, the osprey will also shake itself, much like a dog, removing water from its feathers. The fish feast is then flown to a large, bulky stick nest and shared with its mate/young, or possibly, the fish is simply taken to a stout tree limb where the osprey alights and enjoys a solo meal of the world’s freshest sushi.

Screech oil

Birds of a feather

A professor of biology and ecology at Ashland University, Merrill Tawse has been running the same wild-bird survey route annually for more than 40 years. It’s not for his work, though; it’s purely for pleasure.  

Before 1900, rural people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “side hunt.” Sides (teams) were chosen, and team members fanned out through the countryside with their rifles and shotguns. Whichever team amassed the most feathered or furred quarry by the end of the day won the contest.  

Birds at birdfeeder

Summer birdfeeding

One of the favorite pleasures of summertime for many backyard and garden enthusiasts is watching the songbirds that arrive for the season.

Feed birds quality food

When looking for birdseed, avoid any containing debris such as empty shells, sticks, or stones. Seed should be as dust-free as possible.

Pass on any birdseed mixes that contain milo, wheat, sorghum, or red millet. White proso millet is the exception — birds that feed on the ground enjoy it — but don’t choose a blend with white millet as the main ingredient. 

American Bittern

One weird bird

I don’t consider myself an avid birder, but I understand enough about Ohio birds to know when something unusual shows up.

American bitterns are not easy to spot, for two reasons. First, there aren’t very many of them — they’re state-endangered. Second, they are masters of camouflage. The bird kept its heavily streaked breast turned toward me at all times, rotating slowly as I moved back and forth for a better camera angle.

Cooper’s hawk (Photo by Chip Gross.)

Look who’s coming to dinner

Just about every winter, I receive a frantic email from an Ohio Cooperative Living reader that goes something like this:

“Help! A hawk is attacking the songbirds at my birdfeeder! What should I do?”

It’s not the answer most want to hear, but the only alternative is to not feed birds. By choosing to feed, you congregate songbirds in numbers not normally found in the wild — and that, in turn, makes easy pickings for predators.

The most common hawk seen in the Buckeye State at winter feeders is the Cooper’s hawk. Sleek, fast, and deadly, this member of the accipiter grouping of hawks is one of the stealth fighter jets of Ohio’s bird world.

A snowy owl

Snowy winter forecast

On Thanksgiving Day 2017, an uninvited guest arrived at an Amish farm just a few miles north of Berlin, Ohio — and decided to stay. It was a young snowy owl, and the bird hung around for several weeks, perching atop the peaks of Orris Wengerd’s several barns. It quickly became a celebrity, attracting hundreds of birders and photographers.

A monarch butterfly sits on a flower.

Natural appeal: The Kelleys Island Audubon Club

Kelleys Island residents welcome the return each spring of their “feathered tourists” — songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors that pass through on their way to Canada.

So it was a rather obvious decision for the island’s innkeepers to band together to create an event around it. “Nest with the Birds” began in the 1980s as a way to drum up some early-season bookings by offering guided hikes and migration-related programs for birdwatchers.