The state of Ohio has a great reputation among birders. It’s visited by an impressive number of migrating songbirds, warblers in particular. Ohio’s Lake Erie shore provides great spots for seeing many spectacular bird species including raptors. The winter season in the area can be a very good time for birding considering the gatherings of waterfowl, gulls, and many other characteristic birds. In Ohio, you can take advantage of a wide range of habitats from forests and grasslands to swamps and more.
Have a look at our special selection of must-see birds in Ohio but make sure you’re prepared with some high-quality equipment for your birdwatching adventure:
- Ohio Field Guide
Paper field guides are still preferred by most traditional birders. Instead of getting a general one, consider purchasing a dedicated field guide for identifying the birds of Ohio. Here’s the best to try.
Based on price and quality, we recommend a versatile pair of binoculars like the Nikon 7237 Action. This is a perfect model for the intrepid birder that needs durable construction and powerful multicoated optics.
Instead of carrying around a bigger camera, you can just make use of your lightweight smartphone’s camera. If you have a more recent device, you can most likely count on the performance of the camera to get good shots. A simple telephoto lens kit is a small investment that can be considered a great upgrade for any phone.
1. Pileated Woodpecker
Similar in size to an American crow, the pileated woodpecker is a treasured find by many birdwatching enthusiasts. This is because the bird is particularly secretive and won’t show itself easily. The large forests in the southern and eastern parts of Ohio provide ideal grounds to find the pileated woodpecker. Look for those distinctive cavities as proof of their presence. It’s recommended to get familiar with this woodpecker’s calls if you’re truly determined to find it in its natural environment.
2. Tundra Swan
The tundra swan is the biggest waterfowl in Ohio. It resembles the look of trumpeter swans quite closely so you might have some trouble identifying it correctly. Tundra swans are found on lakes and estuaries in multiple parts of North America. Due to a distinctive whistling sound created by their wings, these birds are sometimes called whistling swans. They have a pure white appearance except for their black bills. A tundra swan can also be surely recognized by the smudge of yellow near the bill.
3. Cerulean Warbler
There are lots of great warblers to behold when visiting the state of Ohio. An excellent example is the cerulean warbler that looks more distinguished with its delicate body colored in a brilliant blue shade. The cerulean neckband and characteristic streaks give this beautiful bird its name. The male of the species is the most visually impressive but the female is quite well-dressed as well as its plumage makes use of a more greenish hue. Cerulean warblers like to forage at the upper canopy of trees so it takes some neck craning to get a good view. Invest in a premium spotting scope like the Celestron Regal M2 for the best viewing results.
4. Northern Bobwhite
Known as the only native quail of Ohio, the northern bobwhite is a small bird that lives on the ground. Coupled with the fact that it has brown dappled plumage results in some challenges when it comes to spotting a northern bobwhite. The male of this species is a bit more distinctive due to its short crest and stripe patterns on its face in contrasting shades of black and white. Northern bobwhites tend to forage in groups and they’re considered quite skittish.
5. Summer Tanager
Here’s a showstopping bird that you can watch in Ohio. The summer tanager is a unique strawberry-colored bird with a fully red appearance. Its visual impact is certainly amplified when seeing the bird flying through the green forest canopy. While male summer tanagers are red, the female shows a different look in a mustard-yellow shade. These birds feed on insects, especially bees and wasps. Despite the bright red color, finding a summer tanager can still be difficult unless you’re familiar with this songbird’s vocalizations.
6. Red-Shouldered Hawk
If you’re searching for raptors, Ohio has some interesting birds to check out. One of the best to watch is the red-shouldered hawk. This bird can be identified by its characteristic red patch on the shoulder but it’s safe to say that you need to be at close range to distinguish such a detail. A series of high-pitched loud notes could be much more useful to detect this striking hawk. Due to a reduction in their natural woodland habitat, red-shouldered hawks have experienced a decline in numbers but as forests recover in Ohio, these birds are starting to make a comeback.
7. Carolina Chickadee
A common sight in southern Ohio year-round, the Carolina chickadee is a curious and smart little bird whose appearance can make it easily confused with the black-capped chickadee. Despite having similar black caps and gray wings, they are two separate chickadee species. Carolina chickadees can be found in forested areas. It’s a foliage gleaner so it’s recommended to scan the tree branches when hearing its distinctive call. These birds are known to visit feeders and take seeds to eat in a more comfortable place.
8. Greater Scaup
The greater scaup is one of Ohio’s most attractive ducks. It feeds by diving into the water. You can find numerous flocks of this bird along the shore of Lake Erie. They get along with other duck species but you can recognize the greater scaup by its distinctive green sheen on the head. The female lacks this characteristic as it shows off a chocolate-brown head appearance. As opposed to the lesser scaup, this duck’s head has a round shape. It takes some practice as an inexperienced birder to tell them apart.
9. Black Vulture
Ohio residents of the southern part of the state are most likely familiar with the black vulture. This is pretty much the northernmost limit of this bird’s range that’s more often encountered in the south of the North American continent. Considering its black plumage and white stars on the wingtips, this vulture is quite a sight to observe. Black vultures enjoy soaring, especially during particularly warm days. You can notice their distinctive silhouette in the sky even before figuring out other details. Alternatively, black vultures can be seen feeding on roadkill or close to dumpsters.
10. Hooded Warbler
As the name suggests, the bird shows off a black hood that surrounds its throat and contrasts beautifully with its bright yellow patches on the face and underside. Hooded warblers are quite easy to distinguish if you manage to catch a good view of them. Even though their numbers have increased thanks to Ohio’s forests recovering, these birds are still a bit challenging to find. You’re better off by trying to hear this warbler rather than a visual search. Look for this cute bird in forests that have a dense understory.
11. Lark Sparrow
With a harlequin facial pattern and a spotted tail, the lark sparrow can quickly grab the attention of any birder. This is a relatively large sparrow that performs a very melodious song while integrating some unique displays during courtship. While the lark sparrow is more common for western and southwestern US regions, the state of Ohio provides a nice little breeding habitat for it. Grasslands and shrubby borders should be explored if you’re hoping to see this boldly marked bird.
12. Northern Cardinal
Given its wide spread throughout the state and conspicuous red style, the northern cardinal holds the honor of being Ohio’s state bird. It’s especially nice to get a good look at this cardinal during the winter when the vibrant color adds some life to the snowy landscape. Male northern cardinals show off the familiar red plumage whereas the brown females look plainer but still have some red accents. If you’re searching for this bird in the summer season, you should pay close attention to hearing its sweet whistling.
13. Ruddy Duck
A compact waterfowl characterized by an oversized tail and a sky-blue bill, the ruddy duck can be a stunning sight on the shorelines of Lake Erie in Ohio. The male of this species has a gleaming chestnut body and holds its long tail upright. It’s also easy to identify by the white cheek patch. Birders admire the dramatic movements involved in the courtship for the ruddy duck. The male’s display includes beating their bill and various bold postures to attract females.
14. Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Ohio is famed among birders when it comes to seeing warblers. Another highlight of this state is the chestnut-sided species that visits the dense forests in the northern parts. This warbler has a slender body and stands out due to its yellow cap and specific plumage colors and patterns. Clearings and disturbed sites, as well as areas with younger trees, can be good places to start looking for chestnut-sided warblers. It’s recommended to listen to their musical song. You might also notice the birds foraging through fine branches.
Breeding bobolink males can offer a stunning display for any birder in Ohio. This bird has a unique look considering its white back and black underside. It’s certainly a more uncommon bird that’s also easily identified by the yellow patch on the head. The bobolink shows off a bubbling song with sharp metallic notes. Males engage in display flights involving strange patterns. As this bird species is declining in numbers, you might have some difficulties finding it in its natural grassy or overgrown field habitats.
16. Rough-legged Hawk
Ohio winters can provide some great attractions for birders. One of them is the rough-legged hawk that will visit the state when moving from its arctic nesting grounds. This bird has some particular behavior characteristics that can help you identify it. Look for it sitting perched at the tip of trees or hovering in the wind in search of prey. Rough-legged hawks can be a bit trickier to identify compared to other hawks as they show off two color phases – lighter birds that are more common and darker ones that are mostly black.
17. American Woodcock
The American woodcock is a challenging bird to find due to being extremely skilled at camouflaging. It probes the soil for insects while the brown-mottled plumage blends it very effectively against the leaf litter in the forest. The American woodcock is related to coastal shorebirds but it prefers shrubby fields and young forests. Spotting this bird may take some amount of luck considering the secretive nature and low-profile behavior. Try searching for it at dusk in the springtime where you might also get the opportunity to watch the male woodcock’s spectacular display flight.
18. Swamp Sparrow
As you can expect from its name, the swamp sparrow prefers wet environments including boreal bogs and cattail marshes. It can be found year-round only in certain regions. Northern parts of Ohio can be considered optimal if you wish to get a glimpse of this little bird. It’s safe to say that wetlands, sedges, and various brackish habitats have great potential for the discovery of the swamp sparrow. The birds are not particularly uncommon but it can take some effort to see them as they like hiding among aquatic plants.
19. Northern Shrike
With a bold mask and hooked bill, the northern shrike represents a fierce predator of birds and small mammals despite its tiny size. The birds breed in Arctic areas but they can visit northern Ohio regions to hunt in semi-open habitats while using dense brush to catch their prey by surprise. Finding this bird can take some patience as it doesn’t often sit out in the open. If you have a backyard feeder, the northern shrike can appear to hunt other birds attracted by the food.
20. Great Black-Backed Gull
Lake Erie in Ohio can be an important meeting place for lots of types of gulls. One of the most impressive to watch for is the great black-backed gull. It’s a massive bird with an attractive black mantle that helps birders identify it. The size of the gull is pretty much a dead giveaway as even juvenile specimens show off large bodies and bills. If you want to observe the great black-backed gull, it’s recommended to visit Lake Erie in the winter. You will also be able to spot some other gull species that aren’t found anywhere else in Ohio.
21. Chimney Swift
The summer season in Ohio can have a lot to offer for birders. One highlight is the chimney swift that has a characteristic silhouette and flight style. You can recognize it in the sky by checking for its specific cigar-like body and erratic wing fluttering. The name of the bird refers to its tendency to nest in tall chimneys in urban regions. Because nowadays chimneys aren’t as popular, this swift has experienced sharp declines in numbers. Your best bet to find a chimney swift is near lakes and rivers where they forage with other birds.
22. Yellow-Throated Warbler
Aptly named for its striking yellow throat patch, this warbler populates many eastern US regions, including Ohio. Southern parts of the state should be explored in the summer if you wish to get a glance of the yellow-throated warbler. They tend to populate pine forests and prefer hanging around the top of the canopy. This makes the bird difficult to see without some reliable binoculars like the Vortex Optics Crossfire HD. The warbler hops up branches and is a bark forager looking out for insects.
23. Lapland Longspur
Many Ohio areas in the winter can be populated by this abundant songbird known as the Lapland longspur. Males show off a distinctive chestnut nape and a jet-black mask that stands out against the white underside of the bird. This longspur is easily recognizable even by amateur birders. Good places to start looking for this bird include fallow agricultural fields but any open field can increase your chances of seeing the bird. Make sure you check some birding sites on the Lake Erie shore as well.
24. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Here’s a very slender and elegant bird you can see in Ohio. The yellow-billed cuckoo features a long tail with crisp white spots on its underside. The distinctive tail can help a birder identify it but the yellow-billed cuckoo is quite difficult to find as it likes to hide in dense woodland areas. It’s recommended to listen for its characteristic drawn-out, knocking call that’s hard to confuse with the vocalizations of other birds. The cuckoo doesn’t have a specific time when it gives its call but it seems to be more frequent during early summer.
25. Indigo Bunting
Indigo buntings are beautiful birds dressed in complete blue plumage. While they show off this kind of brilliant coloring, these songbirds are quite common in the eastern US. Ohio’s shrubby areas should be visited to encounter an indigo bunting. When the bird isn’t singing from a tall perch, it searches for insects and seeds. An easier way to see an indigo bunting is to attract it to your backyard. Mealworms work best to add the bird feeder to encourage the bird to make an appearance.
26. Wood Duck
There are some highly appreciated sites on Lake Erie in Ohio that shouldn’t miss from your birding trips. You might be able to spot there some superb birds like wood ducks. This pretty waterfowl stands out thanks to its iridescent patterns on the head and ornate feathers. As opposed to some other types of ducks, the wood species has strong claws that allow the bird to perch on branches. Wood ducks tend to stay close to the shorelines and you can also identify them in flight thanks to the characteristic belly and underwings color scheme.
27. Blue-Winged Warbler
Another colorful warbler you can spot in Ohio, the blue-winged species can be found quite easily in woodland edge habitats. It has a vibrant yellow body while the wings show off a distinctive blue-gray hue for simple recognition. Another helpful way to ID the bird is to listen to its song that incorporates a characteristic bee-buzz. The state of Ohio is a good place to search for the blue-winged warbler, especially earlier in the breeding season where you can hear the distinctive song.
28. Northern Harrier
Relatively easy to identify even from a long distance away, the northern harrier is an unusual-looking raptor with a considerably wide distribution in North America. This is a hawk that sports a long tail with a distinctive white patch at its base. The face of the bird can resemble the look of an owl. You might be able to spot northern harriers in multiple areas including open grasslands and marshes. Your best bet is to find a flying bird in a slow, coursing style. Look for the white rump and the way the harrier holds its wings in a V style.
29. Eastern Screech Owl
This is a vocal owl that can have different morph looks such as gray and red. Adult gray eastern screech owls can be expertly camouflaged against tree bark but you can find one more easily by listening at night for its distinctive trills and whinnies. The owl’s vocalizations can sound quite spooky and mysterious. Although the best chance for finding this bird is to check wooded areas, sometimes it can be spotted in suburbs and parks. Eastern screech owls will make use of nest boxes in your backyard.
30. Pied-billed Grebe
The pied-billed grebe is a tiny brown bird with a thick bill that prefers smaller lakes and larger ponds. It’s rare to see this bird flying as it’s usually diving after fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Pie-billed grebes are fairly widespread in Ohio but you might still have some issues finding them unless you’re looking in the right places. Check the edges of emergent vegetation as the birds tend to sit hidden. Hearing the loud calls of these birds represents another great method to see this grebe species.