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Why Birds and Birding Matter to Northwest Ohio

April 20, 2022

by Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director, Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO)

Since the inception of Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Biggest Week In American Birding in 2010, more people in this region are aware of birds and birding than ever before. Birds enhance the quality of our lives in myriad ways, and birding tourism is providing our area with a much-needed economic “shot in the arm” in early spring. Here are just a few reasons to consider expanding your knowledge of birds and birding and supporting BSBO and The Biggest Week In American Birding.


Quality of Life Birds are colorful and active and many sing beautiful songs.

Once you delve into the world of birds you’ll discover that their lifestyles and behaviors are endlessly fascinating. Imagine a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (weighing just one-tenth of an ounce) crossing the Gulf of Mexico in fall migration, an 18-hour journey! And, although it’s possible to do a lot of birding just by looking out the window, sooner or later birds will lure us outdoors. Studies have proven that when we’re outdoors, moving around and breathing fresh air, we tend to take deeper breaths. With more oxygen transported to all the cells of our bodies, including our brains, we become more alert and our mood is likely to be elevated. Yes, birding is good for your health! And once you start looking for birds, you’ll discover that northwest Ohio is blessed with some spectacular natural areas to explore.


A Feather in our Tourism Cap (Pun Intended)

The sensational birding in this area is a tremendous and highly marketable asset. I like to say that all the birding stars align for us here in northwest Ohio. First, we have major concentrations of birds. When migratory birds are moving north in spring a large expanse of water poses a daunting barrier. Before crossing Lake Erie, small songbirds need to rest and feed to build their energy reserves. As a result, large concentrations of these small birds converge on the remaining patches of wooded habitat along our lakeshore in spring.


We also have free access to some of the best birding spots on the continent for experiencing this migration parade. Birding sites like our world-class Metroparks, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge provide prime habitat for migratory birds, as well as access for people, allowing us to immerse birders in spring migration in a way that rivals any other destination in the Western Hemisphere. (I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true!) And finally, spring migration happens in our area before the leaf out and before the emergence of mosquitoes and other insects. In November 2014, USA Today readers voted Magee Marsh the #1 Birding Spot in the country. Yes, the birding really IS that good here!

The BSBO Conservation Business Plan

The birding industry in the region didn’t happen by accident. The experienced leadership at Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) recognized the value of the birding experience in the area, and the opportunity to promote this extraordinary birding destination to the world birding market. The BSBO team was uniquely positioned to carry out this plan, capitalizing on BSBO’s strengths.


Our research team had detailed knowledge of bird migration through the area that lent itself to our development of high-quality birding services. These services included free birding area maps, bird migration updates and predictions, guided birding services, and up-to-the-minute bird sightings on Facebook and Twitter. To this suite of services, we added regional travel information, and we offered all of these services free of charge. We wanted to establish BSBO as THE go-to source for birding information in the area. In 2010, with all the pieces and players in place, we launched The Biggest Week In American Birding, and in 2014—just four years after it was launched—The Biggest Week became the largest birding festival in the country.

Positive Press

At a time when Lake Erie water quality issues have brought a great deal of negative press, The Biggest Week In American Birding has helped to counter that with tremendous positive press coverage. From a major feature on the national television program, CBS Sunday Morning, to multiple features in Birds and Blooms Magazine, Audubon Magazine, and Spirit Magazine (the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines), the massive concentration of birds and birders in northwest Ohio each spring is a purely positive story that the press has fallen in love with.

Birds Mean Business

From mid-April through May more than 90,000 birders visit our area to take in this astounding migration spectacle. *Visitation numbers provided by Ohio Division of Wildlife. To date, we’ve had visiting birders from every state, more than 50 countries and six continents travel to northwest Ohio just to enjoy “our” birds! While they’re here, they spend in excess of 40 million dollars on local businesses. *Data based on BSBO’s post-Biggest Week economic impact study. And the best part? All this occurs during what had been considered the shoulder season—one of the slowest times for tourism. Businesses are opening nearly a full month earlier, extending their hours, and hiring more staff. Birders are wonderful people to have in our area. Many stay from two weeks to a month, and some are even starting to purchase spring birding homes in the area.


The Take Home Message

If you remember one thing about this article, I hope it’s this: the connection between habitat conservation and the economic impact of birding tourism. To continue to provide the world-class birding experience that attracts birders from all over the globe, we must be good stewards of the habitat that supports birds. We must protect the habitat that already exists and expand and enhance these areas at every opportunity. Doing so is an investment in the health and wealth of our communities. - Learn more about birds, birding, and Black Swamp Bird Observatory at www.bsbo.org.