Shorebirds Taking Wing Over Ohio
Birds of all kinds are heading south in search of warmer temperatures and noteworthy among these feathered migrants are shorebirds, such as sandpipers, plovers, snipes and other waders.
Shorebirds make some of the longest migrations known. Several species fly more than 8,000 miles between their wintering grounds in southern South America to their breeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle. Not only do these migrants cover amazing distances, they often fly nonstop for three or more days!
These small, white birds share similar gray-brown markings, making identification difficult for the uninitiated. Other common features include long legs for wading in water, long bills to search for food and long wings with streamlined bodies allowing for swift flight over long distances.
When they aren't flying, shorebirds spend much of their time on mudflats, marshes and beaches consuming enormous amounts of food to fuel their long journey south. Lake Erie's coastal region is one of the Midwest's major rest areas for shorebirds, providing them a protective and nutrient rich habitat to renew their fat reserves.
Peak migration for Ohio's southbound shorebirds is August through September, and many locations along Lake Erie - such as Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge - provide excellent viewing opportunities.
In fact, Lake Erie marshlands in northwest Ohio were recently dedicated as a Regional Shorebird Reserve. Through this designation, these marshlands became part of a global network protecting an estimated five million acres of habitat and 30 million shorebirds.
While Ohio's north coast is the main staging area for shorebirds, other places across the state draw large numbers of these migrating globetrotters. Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot County and Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County are two inland habitats that attract shorebirds. Other locations include Hoover Reservoir in Delaware County and the Portage Lakes in Summit County.
A good field guide and a ready supply of patience are great ways to start learning about shorebirds. But knowing the difference between a greater and a lesser yellow legs isn't necessary. Simply viewing these astounding fliers is in itself rewarding.