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The Island House Hotel
102 Madison St., Port Clinton, Ohio 43452
Birding and Bird watching in Northern Ohio

True birding aficionados know that bird watching season in Ohio doesn't end in the fall. In fact, birding opportunities exist throughout the winter, as a wide range of visiting birds wing their way to the north coast of the Buckeye State to call their temporary home. Port Clinton is a great place to begin and end your birding trips to the coast of Lake Erie.

At backyard feeders an assortment of out-of-state visitors are always sure to cause a stir, especially in years when food sources are sparse in the northern forests of Canada. During those times, a greater influx of northern finches, including evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, red and white-winged crossbills and common redpolls, make a showing at feeding stations around our homes and in the forests and marshes of Northern Ohio.

However, in Northern Ohio's wide open spaces, where grasslands meet woodlands, is where you can find larger snowbirds such as eagles, hawks and owls. These mighty and beautiful birds are ready to swoop in from as far away as the arctic tundra, to captivate our Ohio birders and provide some wildlife amusement during event he coldest months of Ohio winter.

It is also not unheard of to see a majestic golden eagle navigating the Northern Ohio skies. Each winter, a steady number of golden eagles are drawn to the large tracts of reclaimed mined lands found throughout much of eastern and northeastern Ohio. As North America’s largest predatory bird, it averages 30 inches in length, features a 6.5-foot wingspan and weighs in at a whopping 10 pounds. Its dark brown plumage and intense dark eyes are offset by a black bill and claws, giving it a fierce appearance.

A more familiar winter visitor to Ohio is the northern harrier. When in search of a meal, this hawk – with its 42-inch wingspan – puts on quite a show gliding slowly over the snow-covered open fields. Using a series of heavy wing beats, the northern harrier can hover just a few feet above its prey, providing birders excellent opportunities for observation, both in flight and in hunting mode.

A well-known resident of the West, the northern harrier favors marsh, field and prairie habitats, many of which are found on the northern shoreline near Port Clinton. With gray plumage and an owl-like facial disk, the northern harrier is an easy bird to identify. Keep your eyes peeled as well for red-tailed hawks, one of Ohio’s most common raptors.

Owls are another common-spotted winter favorite among avian enthusiasts. Every winter, Ohio’s owl population temporarily expands from four species to seven as short-eared, long-eared and northern saw-whet owls join their saucer-eyed North Ohio brethren for the winter.

The short-eared owl is the easiest to catch sight of because it is both diurnal and nocturnal, active from late afternoon through the morning hours. These owls roost almost exclusively on the ground in overgrown fields and along hedge rows, though it’s not unusual to see them perched on roadside fence posts.

It takes a hardy birder to catch a glimpse of the long-eared owl in flight. This after-hours owl is active only from late dusk to just before dawn, flying silently through darkened woodlands and fields in search of a meal. During the day, it roosts in heavy forest cover, often among conifers. To avoid detection, the long-eared owl will stretch its body to camouflage itself as a tree branch.

The northern saw-whet is a diminutive owl, averaging just eight inches in length. It is most active at dawn and dusk, hunting in wooded and heavy brush areas for insects, mice and other small rodents. Sound sleepers when roosting, birders can occasionally get within inches of a saw-whet. However, never disturb this or any owl as you might reveal its roosting location and make it vulnerable to attack by other birds.

Needless to say, with some active and elusive visitors, as well as stoic native Ohio birds stubbornly refusing to leave the snows of Ohio, the winter months can provide a number of unique birding opportunities. For novice and expert birding enthusiasts alike, the shore line of Northern Ohio is a great place to come visit and explore the wide variety of birds and other winter wildlife sure to be out and about hunting for food sources.

The island House hotel in Port Clinton is the ideal place to call home base during your wintry birding expeditions across Northern Ohio. For more information about our accommodations for birding enthusiasts in the area, or to book a room for your next birding trip to the Lake Erie Coast, call us today at 419-734-0100.

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