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Grab your binoculars: The 5 birds you must see in Ohio this winter

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Posted at 11:31 AM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 11:31:58-05

CLEVELAND — While all seems quiet during the winter season in Ohio, some birds are making noise as they thrive in the cold, long winter months. As some species of birds migrate south for the winter, some of Ohio’s resident birds like northern cardinals, screech owls and woodpeckers stay put and give wildlife enthusiasts a must-watch show.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says there are five species that should not be missed this winter season.

1. Sandhill cranes

Reliably found in areas with large spaces of wetland habitats, particularly in the Lake Erie marsh region, the numbers of wading sandhill cranes are increasing in Ohio. They are normally heard before they are seen. Sandhill cranes fly with their necks stretched out and feet trailing behind. An adult bird with a red crown is a key feature to differentiates it from a similarly sized and colored great blue heron.

Viewing locations:

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Sandhill cranes are becoming more numerous in Ohio, particularly near areas with large tracts of wetlands.

RELATED: Known as local icons, the nesting spot for the great blue herons provides solace, pastime during unprecedented times

2. Tundra swans

The highly migratory tundra swans migrate to Ohio in the fall and are found in open marshes, lakes and flood fields, where they are in mixed flocks with trumpeter swans. ODNR said differentiating swans from trumpeter swans can sometimes be a challenge. Bird watchers can identify a tundra swan by its smaller size to the trumpeter swan and the yellow spot on the base of a black bill.

Viewing locations:

LANDING FIELD
Tundra Swans fly over the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2004, near Wenona, N.C. The refuge, a winter haven for about 100,000 migratory waterfowl, is just five miles from a site where the Navy plans to build a landing field for pilots to practice aircraft carrier landings.(AP Photo/Bob Jordan)

3. Snowy owls

Considered one of the most sought-after birds during Ohio’s winter, snowy owls are easy to identify with their yellow cat-like eyes and snow-white body. They usually spend most of the year in the arctic tundra but will arrive at the shores of Lake Erie in the winter. The number of snowy owls in Ohio depends on the availability of their prey, the small rodent called a lemming. The public can see them in open fields and along rocky shorelines.

Snowy owls spotted along Lake Erie

Viewing locations:

RELATED: Herald of the winter: The majestic snowy owl makes an appearance along Cleveland's lakefront

4. Short-eared owls

Known as one of the few owls that are active during the day, short-eared owls are primarily winter visitors from the north. They often give the impression of a giant moth because of deep wing beats and unhurried flight. These owls are found hunting over large grasslands and marsh areas.

Viewing locations:

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The short-eared owl is one of the few owl species that is partially active during the day.

5. Bald eagle

The presence of this iconic bird always drums up excitement on the ground. Eagles can be seen building their nests in winter and incubating eggs by late February.

Viewing locations:

  • Pinery Narrows area north of Station Road Bridge Trailhead in Brecksville
  • Redwood Elementary in Avon Lake
  • Along Ohio’s rivers
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Pair of Bald Eagles nest in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

RELATED: Unaffected by the global pandemic, bald eagles continue to thrive in Ohio

If you decide to venture out to see birds, taking a good pair of binoculars, or even better, a spotting scope to magnify large birds, is a must.

"Being able to truly appreciate birds’ physical attributes that would not otherwise be seen with the naked eye will open the door to new and exciting experiences," ODNR says.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife also has a Common Birds of Ohio Fieldbook that's helpful. Click here to access it.

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