Did you know Wayne County is home to several Important Bird Areas? The Important Bird Area (IBA) designation is granted by the National Audubon Society as part of a global initiative launched by the organization BirdLife International.
According to the Audubon Society, an IBA is an area that is identified, using a set of scientific criteria that assess the health and importance of bird habitat, as being of global importance for the conservation of bird populations.
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Locally, author John Ritzenthaler says, “The IBA program serves as a catalyst for local and community action to ensure the long-term management and conservation of the state’s diverse natural resources. If you want to know more about IBAs, visit Audubon.orgor find the book “Important Bird Areas of Ohio” by Rtizenthaler and Audubon Ohio.
In Wayne County, we have ties with three IBAs. These areas are Funk Bottoms, Killbuck Valley, and the Wayne/Holmes area. As you explore just outside the Wayne County borders, other IBAs like The center of nature at Wilmot, Mohican State Forest in Loudonville and Pleasant Hill Lake in Perrysville also provide critical habitat for a large number of bird species. In fact, the Wilderness Center is designated as a global IBA.
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Funk Bottoms Upper Area for Sandhill Crane Breeding
The three IBAs in Wayne County are all incredibly diverse and all feature different habitat and the opportunity to see a wide variety of bird species. Funky Stockingswhich consists of over 2,000 acres of wetlands and floodplains, is the primary area in the state for breeding sandhill crane populations.
The area is also prime habitat for shorebirds and a hotspot during waterfowl migration. Funk Bottoms has produced excellent viewing opportunities for a variety of sparrow species and is a fairly consistent home to Short-eared Owls in the winter.
The Killbuck Valley IBA is actually made up of two sub-areas that follow Killbuck Creek. The northern half being what many know as the Overton Valley, stretching just west of Wooster, north to the county line. The southern half technically begins around Prairie Lane Park, just south of Wooster and extends into Holmes County, ending just north of Millersburg.
Much of this IBA is marsh and riparian areas. This IBA covers the majority of Ohio’s largest wetland complex south of Lake Erie. This area provides migration habitat for huge numbers of waterfowl every year. Like Funk Bottoms, it also provides many resources for shorebirds during their migration.
The northern half offers the opportunity to observe eagles, warblers, waterfowl and many other forest species, while the southern half, comprising much more marsh habitat, is home to birds such as sandhill cranes, birds shoreline and rails, as well as species that may be found in the northern area.
Barns, meadows and pastures are good for barn owls and cliff swallows
The intersection between Wayne and Holmes County, especially the eastern half, contains a large number of old barns and meadows or pastures. Although it may not seem like something unique, these two factors contribute significantly to a viable habitat for barn owls and cliff swallows. Wayne and Holmes counties are actually the best in the state for barn owl distribution and abundance.
Outside of our IBAs, Wayne County is home to at least 60 birding hotspots, designated by eBird.org. eBird is a citizen science website that helps track bird species, both in number and geographic location. One look at the main hotspots in Wayne County and you will realize how critically important the many different habitats that exist in Wayne County are for birds, whether for migration or for breeding grounds. .
There are eBird hotspots throughout the county: William J. Robertson Nature Preserve in Rittman, Wooster Memorial Park (west of Wooster), Kidron Park, Johnsons Woods State Nature Preserve, The College of Wooster, Secrest Arboretum, and Barnes Nature Preserve, just to name a few.
Spring migration intensifies
So, as the spring migration is just beginning to heat up, take this opportunity to get out into the county and explore our IBAs and birding hotspots. Ohio has over 60 state IBAs and 7 world IBAs. There are also hundreds of eBird hotspots throughout the state. This time of year is a good time to see a wide range of warblers, orioles, shorebirds, wrens, vireos, thrushes and more.
Northwestern Ohio is known as the warbler capital of the world and hosts the America’s Biggest Birding Week event centered on warbler migration. The area around Maumee Bay State Park and Magee Marsh is the starting point for this mind-blowing warbler exhibit.
Needless to say, keep an eye on the skies as we are graced by our spring migrants. Read up on eBird, and maybe even create an account to start your own birding “life list” and contribute to existing hotspots, or you might even have the opportunity to create a new one ! There is also work to be done on the IBAs. You can designate additional sites as IBA.
Being outdoors can bring fun and excitement to all of us. There really is something for everyone to find and enjoy in nature. Naturalist, author, and Ohio native Julie Zickefoose, who wrote “Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay,” expresses that sentiment for our feathered friends; “The presence of a single bird can change everything for the one who appreciates them”.
Frank Becker is the Wayne County Extension OSU Agriculture and Natural Resources Integrated Pest Management Program Coordinator and a Certified Crop Advisor, and can be reached at 330-264 -8722 or becker.5872osu.edu.