Home to two national historic parks, three national wildlife refuges, 83 state parks, 312 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, more than a dozen offshore islands, and wildly varied habitats from bluffs and ridges to forests, swamps, and grasslands, Ohio is an ideal birding destination. More than 400 bird species have been sighted in the Buckeye State, with nearly 200 species breeding inside Ohio’s borders. From Toledo to Cleveland and Columbus to Cincinnati, wherever birders visit they are sure to see spectacular birds. Keep your binoculars focused for these top 20 best bird species to see in Ohio.
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Ohio is a top destination for seeing warblers, particularly in spring and summer, and the chestnut-sided warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica) is a colorful visitor to the state’s leafy woods. Found only in the northern section of the state, this bird is a top contender for the most colorful and sought-after warbler in Ohio.
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Found in the southern half of the state during the summer breeding season, the yellow-throated warbler (Dendroica dominica) arrives in Ohio very early, adding a burst of color to early spring migration with its bold throat and contrasting plumage. Watch for these birds especially in pine forests and riparian corridors.
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The blue-winged warbler (Vermivora pinus) is another colorful Ohio visitor each summer, and is found throughout the state in the appropriate thickets and woodland edge habitats. These birds are distinctive not just for their blue-gray wings, but also for their bright yellow bodies and thin black eye-stripes. Both males and females show these markings.
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While many warblers have yellow plumage or markings, the cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is notable for its delicate blue-and-white coloration. These warblers are summer guests in Ohio, and prefer tall, leafy forests and riparian areas. Because their numbers are dwindling, cerulean warblers are of special note to see and protect.Continue to 5 of 20 below.
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Ohio’s grasslands and meadow habitats are a favorite spot to find the bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). These birds prefer slightly damp habitats, and are found in northern and central Ohio throughout the summer. The males stand out with their bold markings, but females are much more camouflaged and may be confused with sparrows.
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For a bold pop of summer color in Ohio, watch for the summer tanager (Piranga rubra), one of the reddest birds in the world. The Buckeye State is at the northern edge of this bird’s breeding range, and summer tanagers are found throughout the southern half of Ohio flitting through treetops during the summer months.
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The only native quail readily found in Ohio, the northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) can be seen year-round throughout the state, though they are most common in the state’s southwestern corner. They can be very elusive, however, but they can be seen in brushy fields and open woodlands and are often heard calling before they are seen.
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Another bird that can be difficult to find because of its secretive nature and camouflaged markings, the American woodcock (Scolopax minor) prefers forested thickets and damp fields. Ohio is at the core of this bird’s summer breeding range, giving birders a great opportunity to see its mating dance and add this funky bird to their life list.Continue to 9 of 20 below.
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Well known in the southeastern United States, the black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is only familiar in southern Ohio, the northernmost extent of its year-round range. In very southern parts of the state, black vultures can often be seen flocking and feeding with turkey vultures, and in flight, their distinctive wing pattern makes identification easy.
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The swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) has a very limited year-round range, but northern Ohio is part of that preferred area where these birds can be found in marshes, swamps, and riparian thickets. In winter, these sparrows can also be seen in the southern half of the state and throughout the southeastern United States.
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The boldly marked and colorful lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is more commonly seen in the western and southwestern United States, but there is a small pocket of ideal breeding habitat in western Ohio, where these birds can be seen during the summer. This is one of the easternmost parts of the lark sparrow’s range.
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Looking up during the summer can help Ohio birders add the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica) to their life lists. These relatively plain birds are best recognized by shape, with their cigar-like bodies and long, pointed wings. They flutter rapidly and may fly erratically, and often nest in tall chimneys in urban and suburban areas.Continue to 13 of 20 below.
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The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is one of the most familiar backyard birds. Ohio is a key spot for seeing these chickadees, as it is one of very few states where birders can also see the Carolina chickadee. Black-capped chickadees have more white in their wings, a more ragged bib, and are found in northern Ohio year-round.
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The Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) is found in southern Ohio year-round, and can be distinguished from its black-capped cousins by its darker wings with less white edging, as well as its smoother bib and slightly smaller overall size. They also have a slightly different song, ideal for practicing birding by ear.
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The northern shrike (Lanius excubitor) breeds in Arctic regions, but during winter it can reach as far south as northern Ohio. When an irruption occurs due to harsh storms or food shortages, these birds may even be seen in southern parts of the state. Their scaly breasts and narrow black mask are key identification features to watch for.
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The state bird of Ohio, the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is familiar and widespread throughout the state year-round. These birds are especially popular in winter yards, where both the red males and the fawn-colored females can be a bright splash of color when the state is otherwise snowbound.Continue to 17 of 20 below.
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With such an extensive lake shoreline, Ohio is home to a number of lovely ducks, including the greater scaup (Aythya marila). These diving ducks spend their winters along the Lake Erie shore, often in very large and dramatic flocks, typically with other duck species mixed in. Look for the green sheen on this bird’s head to help identify it.
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The ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) is dramatic in its colorful breeding plumage with its bright blue bill. The Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shorelines are the eastern extent of this stifftail duck’s breeding range, giving Ohio birders a chance for great viewing opportunities of this duck’s courtship, which includes bold postures and strutting movements.
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Great Black-Backed Gull
The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) is the largest of the 19 gull species to be seen in Ohio, and is similar in size to a large raptor. Its heavy bill and dark mantle are other identification clues, and these birds are seen along the northern shoreline, especially in the Cleveland area. This gives even urban birders a great chance to see this gull.
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While the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) may not spend lengthy seasons in Ohio, it is the only native swan species to migrate through the state. These large, heavy swans can be seen along the Lake Erie shoreline most often during fall migration, though some may be seen inland as well, especially in flooded fields and other wet areas.
While there are many great birds in Ohio, if the Buckeye State isn't on your travel list, one of these other amazing birding destinations might have just what you need for your life list!