Biggest Week In American Birding Frequently Asked Questions
What is The Biggest Week In American Birding? Organized and hosted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, The Biggest Week In American Birding is a 10-day festival in northwest Ohio, “The Warbler Capital of the World!” Immerse yourself in spring songbird migration and experience some of the best birding North America has to offer. The festival has something to offer beginner and seasoned birders alike, with bird identification workshops, guided birding trips, daily walks at the world famous Magee Marsh, American Woodcock field trips, keynote presentations, a Birder’s Marketplace, and evening socials with free food and music. Come for a few days or stay for the whole 10-day celebration.
When will registration open? General Registration will open on Friday, February 17, 2023, at Noon (ET)
What is the COVID policy? As of January 1, 2023 there is no specific COVID policy. Masks are optional. We ask that you stay home if you're feeling ill.
Where is this event held? It all takes place in northwest Ohio, “The Warbler Capital of the World.” The festival headquarters is at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, with additional vendors and activities at Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
Do I have to register for the festival to go birding in the area? No, but of course we hope you will! You do not have to register for the Biggest Week to go birding and have a wonderful time in the area. Most of the best birding sites are public wildlife areas and parks where visitation and birding is free. And if you stop by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory headquarters (located just inside of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area), we’ll fix you up with free birding area maps and all the latest bird sightings – and it won’t cost you a thing!
Who is organizing the Biggest Week? The Biggest Week is organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory with support from our co-hosts at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, Lake Erie Shores & Islands (Ottawa County and Erie County Visitors’ Bureau), and Destination Toledo (Lucas County Visitors’ Bureau).
Why come to northwest Ohio in May? Northwest Ohio in May is quite simply the best place to witness spring songbird migration in North America. The southern edge of Lake Erie acts as a barrier that the birds are reluctant to cross during migration. The birds tend to “pile up” in the woodlots surrounded by marshland on the lake’s southern edge to rest and refuel before crossing the lake. The timing of their arrival is early enough in the spring that the trees have not leafed out, there are no bugs, and the birds are incredible low and accessible. No such thing as “warbler neck” around here! We get HUGE numbers of birds, much like a fallout, only better! Fallouts occur when a weather event pushes birds down, and what birders find are weary survivors. Here in NW Ohio, we get the same huge numbers of birds as you’d see in a fallout, but the birds are active and vibrant, and by the time they get to this latitude, the males are actively singing!
What are the likely warblers to be seen during the week? Although the number of species seen will depend on the birder, time spent and the weather patterns, it is likely that an active birder on the walks and birding alone will see the vast majority, if not all, of the following: American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Golden-winged Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Norther Waterthrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ovenbird, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Several others such as Yellow-throated Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler are possible. In addition, the super-rare Kirtland’s Warbler also passes through, and has been seen during this period, but it is not to be expected.
Besides the warblers, how does the birding rate? After you have had your fill of warblers for the day or week, there are plenty of other options to keep you going. No birder is likely to get bored in this area in May. The marshlands around Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge hold vast numbers of waterbirds such as swans, heron, and egrets. Ottawa is drawing down water levels in some areas so birders will be able to get great looks at most of the inland shorebird species, including Dunlin, dowitchers, yellowlegs, and sandpipers. Surrounding woodlands hold most of the resident species from the Great Lakes region, so if chasing Red-headed Woodpeckers is your thing, you will be well served.
Are there any tidal considerations for shorebirds? No not tidal, but wind plays a big part in changing water levels around the edge of the lake. If there is a strong northerly wind, the mudflats of Crane Creek will be covered. Now for the most part, we will be watching shorebirds in ponds that have been drawn down in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, so the water levels will be stable through the day and fluctuate little from day to day. If wind conditions are such that Crane Creek mudflats are the place to be, we will have the message out.
What are the best birding localities to visit? Must sees include Magee Marsh Boardwalk for warblers and other songbird migrants; Maumee Bay State Park for waterbirds and their boardwalk for songbirds; Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge for warblers, shorebirds, and waterbirds; Black Swamp Bird Observatory for American Woodcocks and migrants visiting the water feature outside the window on wildlife; Metzger Marsh for waterbirds and migrant songbirds; Oak Openings for woodland species; and other hotspots include some of our private conservation lands for the lucky few who can get into these restricted areas on one of the bus trips. We also provide site overviews and free maps of many birding areas.
How difficult will the birding be? For the most part very easy, with many warblers at eye level and waterbirds at close range. For some of the more difficult species we have guides available free of charge to help you out around the clock (almost). At any time ask someone with a gold Biggest Week cap and they will be happy to help.
Are any of these birding areas wheelchair accessible? Yes! The boardwalks at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge are both wheelchair accessible and, unless we have a great deal of rain, most of the trails would be as well. Howard Marsh Metropark has flat terrain with boardwalks that go out over the marsh that would also be accessible to those with mobility issues.
Will I need to bring anything other than my normal birding gear? No special clothing required, and there will be no drudging through mud. Keep in mind that the weather can be fickle at this time of year in northwest Ohio. Bring layers, and be prepared for the potential of dramatic changes in the weather from day-to-day.
I’m interested in bird photography; are there any good photo opportunities? Kenn Kaufman has made the claim that “during the month of May, there are more warbler photos take in northwest Ohio than in all the rest of the USA combined!” While we can’t prove that’s true, it probably is, and for good reasons. Not only are there a LOT of warblers around, but these little gems come down from their usual treetop haunts to cavort at eye level here. If you carry a huge camera lens mounted on a tripod, you may find conditions a bit crowded on the boardwalk at times, but there are ample opportunities along the north edge of the woods and many photographers have their best luck there. Alternatively, if you use your camera hand-held, you’re likely to find many willing subjects posing all along the boardwalk – even if warblers tend to pose only briefly!
What is the earliest and latest I can go birding in northwest Ohio? Most places are open from dawn until dusk. There will be guides available to help you from around 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on most days at Magee Marsh. This is contingent on what rarities are around, so you may see us running the other way!
Are some times of the day better than others? Yes, the mornings and afternoons are better for most songbirds, though if there is a buildup overnight it can be pumping all day. We suggest that people are out looking by 8 a.m. and take the middle of the day to relax and enjoy one of our programs that will be offered.
Okay, the birding is great, the workshops useful, and the talks very entertaining…what about the social aspects of birding? While the Biggest Week really focuses mainly on birds and birding, socializing is something that the festival hosts hold close to our hearts. We feel that besides just looking at the birds, we want to build friendships within the birding community, and because of this we have social events spread through the 10 days. We hope there will be a lot of social interaction between local, interstate, and international birders. At any point, drop into the BSBO office and ask what’s going on that day.
Do I need an expert birder to attend the bird walks? No, absolutely not. All level of birders are welcome. The warbler walks will concentrate on seeing all the target species for the area so may not spend as much time on common species as wanted by some beginners. We suggest that beginners take advantage of the beginner walks in the mornings on Saturdays and Sundays to cover the basics, do a waterbird and shorebird workshop, and then hit the Magee Marsh boardwalk by the afternoon. By the end of a four day visit, you will know the ropes and be pulling in great birds!
My partner is not a birder, will there be things for a non-birder to do? Other Points of Interest provides a number of activities and sightseeing opportunities including history, museums, shopping, and golf courses. We expect that a non-birder could easily spend a week in the area and still not have covered what this area has to offer.
What about kids, can they come? Yes! This is the perfect place to bring kids of all ages! Promoting youth birding is one of the main priorities of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, so please, bring them along and let’s get more young people enthused!
Will there be optics for beginners to use in the field? For people on the beginner walk and shorebird walks, there will be a limited number of binoculars for use free of charge for the duration of the walk.
Do I need to pre-register? Yes, the programs, field trips, and evening receptions require pre-registration.
Are there any activities that I do not need to register for? Most events require the general festival registration which provides you with a festival name badge. The guided Magee Marsh Boardwalk bird walks do not require specific registration for each walk, but you do need to be register for the festival to participate. Just show up at the designated location at the designated time and show your Biggest Week name badge. There are some free activities that do not require festival registration – you’ll find a list of them HERE.
What is the refund policy? Our refund policy is posted HERE.
I am interested in upgrading my optics. Will there be someone there to answer my questions on what to buy next? Yes! The Optics Alley tent at Black Swamp Bird Observatory carries a variety of optic brands for you to try out and we will have optics dealers onsite who can assist you with all of your optic questions.
Where is the best place to stay during the event? The festival headquarters is located in a 120 room lodge. There is also camping and cabins onsite to rent. There is also a good selection of lodging in Port Clinton, 16 miles to the east, and in Oregon, 12 miles west of this event site. THIS LINK has lots of suggestions. We encourage you to visit businesses that support Black Swamp Bird Observatory through our BSBO Birds & Business Alliance program! Please ask when making your reservations; many of the local hotels and restaurants donate a portion of your bill back to the Observatory if you mention that you heard about their establishment through us!
Where can I grab a quick bite to eat for lunch? Maumee Bay Lodge will offer box lunches that can be pre-ordered and there are also a few restaurants nearby. The AREA DINING link offers a list of our Birds & Business Alliance partners’ restaurants.
What are the closest airports to this event? The Cleveland Hopkins Airport in 85 miles east and the Detroit Metro Airport is 70 miles northwest of Oak Harbor. This is where you will get most flights from major US cities and international capitals. There is a smaller airport in Toledo which serves some local and low cost carriers from the east coast.
Where can I rent a car? There are car rental facilities from Cleveland, Detroit, and Toledo. The easiest way is just rent a car straight out of the Cleveland or Detroit airports. You will not need anything with high ground clearance or 4WD, so a sedan is just fine.
What will the weather be like in mid-May? Temperatures range from the mid-fifties to mid-seventies Fahrenheit which can feel cool since we are along Lake Erie. There are some days where the midday temperatures are lower than those in the early morning, so be prepared with a coat at all times.
I have additional questions, who can I call? For further questions, call Black Swamp Bird Observatory at 419-898-4070 or email email@example.com.