Migrating birds turn frozen parks into a winter oasis

DUSTIN DAVIS, Greenways Ranger

Hooded merganser on pond.
Hooded merganser (Tim Daniel)

While the recent frigid weather has probably kept most of us indoors, waterfowl travel from afar to reach Ohio. Every winter, our waterways become an oasis of sorts for migrating waterfowl looking for a rest stop or temporary vacation home. Many of the lakes, rivers and wetlands in Metro Parks become refuges for these seasonal travelers. With the leaves gone, these bodies of water become stages where visitors can more closely watch these birds as they go about their daily routines.

Rivers like the Scioto offer up wildlife viewing experiences that change daily. Although most of the river has become a frozen, snow-covered terrain, inlets along the river corridor create pockets of warm water where migrating waterfowl congregate. These patches of warm water give visiting birds like hooded mergansers, buffleheads, golden eyes and blue-winged teals a place to relax. They also provide access to food under the ice and snow.

Blue-winged teal fly over wetlands at Glacier Ridge Metro Park.
Blue-winged teal fly over the wetlands at Glacier Ridge. (Adam Brandemihl)

These winter retreats can be easily spotted along most of the Scioto River Greenway Trail, making winter bird watching an activity the whole family can enjoy. All of the Greenway Trails offer river vantage points with open views that do not disturb the birds. One only needs to bring a pair of binoculars and a sense of wonder to get a closer look.

I look forward to birding every winter. I always know when I start to see the hooded mergansers or “hoodies” that other species are not far behind. The vibrant feathers and patterns on waterfowl add a much needed splash of color to the winter landscape. I’m always looking to discover a bird species I haven’t seen yet and hope this year I might see one of my favorite birds, the ruddy duck.

I encourage you all to venture out along your nearest Greenway Trail and take some time scanning the river. Some of the best sights to see in Central Ohio are, like the smell of roses, only noticeable to those willing to slow down and take a look around.

Ruddy duck on pond.
Ruddy duck (Tim Daniel)