Birders migrate to Lake Erie for the Biggest Week in American Birding
By Dominique King

Birders migrate to Lake Erie for the Biggest Week in American Birding

Northwest Ohio awaits an expected 80,000 birding enthusiasts from around the world to flock to the shores of Lake Erie for The Biggest Week in American Birding this month.

The “week” is so big among birders that it is actually a 10-day festival celebrating an annual gathering of migratory birds from May 6 through 15.

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Spotted at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Lake Erie is a bit of a barrier for migrating birds in early spring. They rest and refuel here before continuing their journey north, giving this area a reputation as the best place to see the spring songbird migration in North America.

Many of the songbirds are actively singing when they arrive at Lake Erie during migration, making the area the “Warbler Capital of the World”.

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The annual festival, organized by the Black Swamp Observatory, coincides with the peak season of spring migration along Lake Erie’s marshy shores. Event co-hosts include Magee Marsh Wildlife Area Bird Center, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, Destination Toledo, and Lake Erie Shores and Islands.

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Black Swamp Observatory

You can look for the birds on your own at places like Magee Marsh and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which are 15 miles east of Toledo, or learn more about our feathered guests by registering for The Biggest Week at Maumee Bay, which serves as festival headquarters.

Festival registration allows you to participate in birding workshops, guided wildlife walks and bus tours with some of the biggest names in birding, as well as evening socials and special discounts from area businesses.

Check out The Biggest Week in American Birding Visitors’ Guide online for a complete festival schedule, travel tips, articles about birding, conservation information, other area attractions and coupons. You can find paper copies of the guide around the area (we found ours at the original Tony Packos restaurant on Front Street in Toledo).

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Spotted at the Trautman Nature Center at Maumee Bay Lodge

Find free birding maps and news of the latest bird sightings at the Black Swamp Observatory headquarters just inside of the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

Festival organizers welcome birders of all experience levels, suggesting guided walks scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays as an excellent way for beginning birders to learn how to spot and identify birds. There are also a number of programs geared specifically to helping younger visitors learn more about birding.

The boardwalk trail along Lake Erie at Magee Marsh is handicapped accessible, and many other trails in Magee Marsh and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge are level enough to permit wheelchair access if it isn’t too rainy.

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Taking in the view from the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Welcome Center

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Try looking for songbirds during mornings and afternoons. Visitors can expect to see as many as 20 warbler species each day throughout the festival, as well as thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, orioles and shore birds. Hot spots for sightings include the Magee Marsh for songbirds and trails in the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge for warblers and shore birds.  

Find tips for birding and reporting bird sightings at the Birding Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Biggest Birding Week websites.

Check out other avian themed events in the area like Fine Feather: Art & Science, an exhibition of noted bird artists and illustrators at the Toledo Museum of Art through July 6, and the year-long celebration of flight at the Toledo Zoo, where visitors can view many non-North American bird species.

We recently visited the Magee Marsh and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on a cold, clear day just ahead of the festival. Even though we were a little early for the peak migration period, we still found plenty to see and do.

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Spotted at Magee Marsh

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It was a quiet mid-week day, but we spotted bald eagles nesting in the distance (some trails blocked off to protect that area) and many shore birds in the marshes. We also saw a good number of people walking along the trails, birding enthusiasts eager to greet the first migrants, and photographers hoping to capture some great bird images.

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Magee Marsh Boardwalk








About the Author

Dominique King is a metro Detroit writer, hockey fan and frequent visitor to Ohio. She began her writing career as a freelance writer for local newspapers, covering business, art and regional travel topics for the Mirror Newspapers, the Daily Tribune and Hour Detroit Magazine. She has a degree in Communications (M.A.) from Detroit's Wayne State University and an interest in history. You can find Dominique writing about Midwest travel at or connect with her on Twitter @midwestguest.