12 MONTHS OF BIRDS AT OTTAWA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Depending on the availability of open water, you can expect to see resident adult bald eagles, tundra swans, Canada geese, and year-round residents like northern cardinals, flocks of blue jays, finches, and owls. If the season is particularly warm and open water is plentiful, Sandhill cranes, gulls, and great blue herons may stay in NW Ohio. Great horned owls begin to lay eggs and incubate during the last two weeks of January.
Bald Eagles begin to lay eggs and incubate during the first two weeks of February. Expect to see waterfowl including swans, hardy ducks (goldeneye, scaup, canvasback), and geese start to move. American Crows are often spotted along the lakeshore communities during this time. The return of red-tailed blackbirds and American woodcocks are a sure sign that spring is on its way.
Juvenile bald eagles begin to return to the area as do other raptors including turkey vulture. Waterfowl migration is in full swing with Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge's marshes teaming with ducks in breeding plumage. Some shorebirds and sparrows should be coming through the area.
Waterfowl and raptor migration continues, slowing towards the end of the month. Shorebirds and sparrows continue to arrive and move through. We typically see our first wood warblers in April beginning with yellow-rumped warblers, palm, pine, and black-throated green. Watch too for golden and ruby-crowned kinglets in Ottawa's woodlots and shrub/scrub habitats. Ottawa NWR's resident osprey typically return by the end of the month.
Huge numbers of Neotropical migrants find their way to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge's stopover habitats to re-fuel and rest before crossing Lake Erie. As many as 30 species of warblers can be seen at the refuge. Thrushes, orioles, indigo buntings, hummingbirds, and cuckoos can also be plentiful. Free tours allowing you a behind-the-scenes look at spring migration are abundant - check the Event Calendar for availability.
June is all about shorebirds! Ruddy turnstones, and sandpipers return to the area. June also begins breeding season in Ohio for about 180 bird species. Bobolinks, meadowlarks, and sparrows are calling in the prairies.
Bird activity lessens as the days become hotter. This is the time of the year when it is important to view wildlife at dawn or dusk. Sedge wrens are just arriving to the area from the south, while shorebirds like least sandpiper and semipalmated plover are already returning from their nesting grounds in the Arctic.
Depending on weather, shorebird migration can be a particular highlight in August. Watch mudflats to view up to 47 species of sandpipers, plovers, godwits and other shorebirds as August brings peak diversity. This is the best time of the year to pack a scope when birding as the shorebirds are often viewed at a distance. Juvenile shorebirds leave the nesting grounds later than adults and will pass through Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge within the next month.
The sounds of songbirds have drastically depleted, and the habitats at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge are becoming eerily quiet. Some species like the goldfinch continue to nest. September brings the peak of songbird and shorebird migration. Because warblers are not singing to attract a mate, fall warblers present one of the most challenging forms of bird watching!
Raptor migration begins as the leaves change and fall. Waterfowl begin to move south including large numbers of Canada geese, northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, and pintail. Saw-whet owl migration is also particularly prevalent in October.
In mid November, tundra swans begin to arrive. Thousands of red-breasted mergansers and other diving ducks form rafts in offshore waters of Lake Erie. Gull numbers become more numerous. Dark-eyed juncos, tree sparrows, and pine siskins make a return to bird feeders.
While bird numbers and diversity are often at their lowest during the winter months, bird watching can be fantastic. The lack of foliage on the trees allows for a more uninhibited view of woodpeckers and resident songbirds. Raptors like eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and the state-threatened northern harrier are often seen hunting along the open landscape. Snowy owls are also a possibility from November through April.