28 Must-See Water Birds in Ohio (ID + Pictures)

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Lake Erie, Ohio
Lake Erie is one of many aquatic habitats in Ohio that offer food and a place to reproduce for water birds. James St. John / CC BY 2.0

Ohio is situated in the northeastern United States. It has a humid continental climate, with hot, humid summers, and cool to cold winters. The largest lake in Ohio is Lake Erie, however, the state also possesses numerous small lakes and reservoirs, as well as extensive rivers and streams.

This abundance of aquatic habitat means that Ohio is suitable for many water birds. Examples of birds found here include ducks, herons, kingfishers, and birds of prey – all of which rely on the rivers and lakes to source food and reproduce. While some species are migratory, others can be found in the state all year round.

Ohio Water Birds

1) Eurasian teal (Anas crecca)

Eurasian teal in flight
The Eurasian teal is also known as the green-winged teal because of a flash of green that can be found on its wings. konstantinseliverstov / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to Europe and Asia
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The Eurasian teal is a small duck, reaching around 34 – 38 cm (1 ft 1 in – 1 ft 3 in) in length, and has a wingspan of 58 – 64 cm (1 ft 11 in – 2 ft 1 in). While the females are simply mottled brown in color, the males display striking coloration: a chestnut head, green eye patches, spotting across the chest, gray flanks, and a yellow tail. This species is also known as the green-winged teal, due to having a flash of green on the wing, seen in both sexes.

These birds are versatile and can be found on inland lakes, marshes, and shallow streams. They feed on small invertebrates, which they locate by dabbling in shallow waters – their bills are equipped with lamellae (comb-like structures), which play a role in filtering the invertebrates out from the water.

2) Great egret (Ardea alba)

Great egret
Great egrets can usually be found near quiet ponds and marshes. Annika Lindqvist / CC BY 4.0
  • Found across North, Central, and South America, East Europe, Africa, and North Asia (native range difficult to determine)
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Great egrets are very large birds, capable of reaching lengths of 94 cm (3 ft 1 in), with a wingspan of 155 cm (5 ft 1 in). This species has a slender build, with extremely long legs suited to wading. The plumage is white and there is a patch of greenish skin between the bill and the eye. The long yellow bill is used to capture this species’ prey, which consists of fish, crayfish, snakes, frogs, and salamanders.

Quiet ponds or marshes are the best locations to look out for this bird. It usually nests high up in colonies, although isolated pairs have been reported in some instances. Both parents are involved in caring for the young, which grow rapidly and learn to fly at around six or seven weeks of age.

3) Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)

Great blue heron eating fish
Great blue herons use their long, sharp bills to catch fish and gophers. Dan MacNeal / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North, Central, and South America
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The great blue heron can grow to 122 cm (4 ft) in height, with a wingspan of 183 – 213 cm (6 – 7 ft). The plumage of this bird is blue-gray, with a patch of chestnut on the shoulder. The bill is bright orange or yellow, and there is a black stripe from the eye, extending into short plumes on the head.

This species is common and can be found in a variety of locations, such as riverbanks, marsh edges, estuaries, and ponds. It will wade up to belly deep in search of fish and gophers, which it stabs with its long, sharp bill – this species is not always especially popular with owners of fishponds! Placing a pipe underwater in the pond gives fish a space in which to hide from these birds.

Great blue herons often reside in colonies, and research has suggested that this may confer a number of advantages. For example, a greater number of birds can increase foraging efficiency. Research has also shown that colonies tend to be located in areas with plenty of buffering habitats and lower road density.

4) Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard on frozen pond
Mallards are common in Ohio and range in length from 1 ft 8 in to 2 ft 2 in. Jared Shorma / CC BY 4.0
  • Widely distributed throughout North, Central, and South America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The mallard ranges in length from 50 – 65 cm (1 ft 8 in – 2 ft 2 in) and is common throughout Ohio. This species is highly adaptable; however, its preferred habitat tends to be in shallow marshes or rivers. Individuals dabble, feeding on plant material, insects, tadpoles, crustaceans, and mollusks. The diet of ducklings tends to consist of aquatic insects, as these are more easily obtained.

Also known as the ‘greenhead’, the mallard is quite an elegant duck: females have brown feathers with pale edges, giving a mottled appearance, while males are grayish brown, with a black back, dark brown throat and neck, iridescent green head, and a bright yellow bill. Both sexes have striking blue secondary wing feathers, which can be seen when the bird is in flight.

Mallards are polygamous, and thus only the female cares for the offspring, of which there are usually between eight and ten. Ducklings may be targeted by predators such as owls, weasels, or mink, although females remain highly vigilant throughout nesting, and will lead the ducklings to water as soon as possible after hatching.

5) Mute swan (Cygnus olor)

Mute swans
Mute swans are not native to Ohio and are considered to be a nuisance in the state. Codrin Bucur / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to the Eurosiberian region and the far north of Africa
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The mute swan is a very large bird, reaching 140 – 160 cm (4 ft 7 in – 5 ft 3 in) in length, with a wingspan of 208 – 238 cm (6 ft 10 in – 7 ft 9 in). The neck of the mute swan is long and forms an S-shape, and the plumage is completely white. The bill is orange, with a black base and a black knob at the top – this is smaller in females than in males, a feature that allows the sexes to be distinguished from one another.

The habitat preferences of this species include wetlands, lakes, rivers, and estuaries, where they feed on aquatic plants. A study found that females tend to consume more pondweed, whereas males consumed more slender naiad and common waterweed. Other plants included wild celery, wild rice, coontail, and muskgrass.

As a non-native species in Ohio, mute swans are considered a nuisance – they outcompete other species such as the tundra swan for resources such as nesting habitat. Individuals can be highly aggressive, and the rate at which they consume aquatic vegetation presents a huge concern for native marsh plants. Management strategies such as culling swans are being implemented to stop populations from spreading further.

6) Wood duck (Aix sponsa)

Wood duck on tree
Wood ducks like to reside near wooded swamps, riparian areas near streams, and quiet backwaters of lakes. Jonathan Eisen / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to Canada, the US, and Mexico
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Male wood ducks are slightly larger than female wood ducks, with average lengths being around 50 cm (1 ft 8 in) and 48 cm (1 ft 7 in) respectively. The wingspan of this species varies considerably, ranging from 71 – 99 cm (2 ft 4 in – 3 ft 3 in). The coloration of male wood ducks is very striking: they have an iridescent green and purple head, complete with a white stripe traveling from the red eye along the crest. The bill is white, black, and red, while the throat and belly are white, the chest burgundy, and the back olive-brown. Females range from gray brown to olive brown, with a white belly, blue-gray bill, and a white teardrop pattern across the eye.

Wood ducks are very common throughout Ohio, and during migration can be seen in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways. Males follow their mate during migration, so the location they travel to may vary each year – whereas females will typically return to the same nesting grounds. This species feeds on seeds, aquatic plants, crustaceans, and insects. The preferred habitat for wood ducks includes riparian areas near streams, wooded swamps, and quiet backwaters of lakes.

7) American coot (Fulica americana)

American coot
The American coot has a number of foraging techniques, such as grazing terrestrially and dabbling in the shallows. Anthony Batista / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to the Nearctic region
  • Order: Gruiformes
  • Family: Rallidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The American coot is fairly small, reaching just 34 – 43 cm (1 ft 1 in – 1 ft 5 in) in length, with a wingspan of 58 – 71 cm (1 ft 11 in – 2 ft 4 in). Individuals have small heads and short tails, and are typically dark gray in color, turning blacker towards the head. The feet are very large and usually yellow-green, and the bill is white, extending up into a white patch on the front of the head. This species has a distinctive movement, with its head moving forward and back as it swims.

As a fairly adaptable species, Fulica americana can be found in freshwater ponds, lakes, or slow-flowing rivers. They display a variety of foraging techniques, such as dabbling in the shallows, diving into deeper water, or grazing terrestrially. Their diet consists of plant material, including algae, insects, tadpoles, worms, snails, crayfish, and other birds’ eggs.

The American coot is extremely territorial and can be very aggressive towards its conspecifics, as well as birds of other species. The territorial behavior of this species takes the form of displaying, for example depressing the head, arching the wings, erecting the neck feathers, and vocalizing, for example making noises to intimidate opponents.

8) Canada goose (Branta canadensis)

Canada geese
During breeding season, Canada geese are capable of being aggressive to humans, so care should be taken around them. John Krampl / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The Canada goose is fairly large, reaching lengths of between 75 – 110 cm (2 ft 6 in – 3 ft 7 in), while the wingspan can range from 130 – 180 cm (4 ft 3 in – 5 ft 11 in). The wings and back of this species are brown, while the chest is tan, and the head and neck are black. The chin and cheeks are white.

This species inhabits a wide range of areas, such as lakes, ponds, marshes, and fields, where it consumes a diet consisting predominantly of plant material, such as berries, seeds, stems, and grasses. Individuals may also feed on insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. In Ohio, Canada geese are considered a nuisance, and during breeding season they may become aggressive, presenting a risk to people and pets.

Canada geese are well known for flying in V-formation. This behavior increases the birds’ aerodynamic advantage, although research suggests that this may require the birds to remain ‘in phase’ with each other’s wingbeats, which is not always possible.

9) Green heron (Butorides virescens)

Green heron on branch
Green herons are stocky, with short legs and thick necks. Their average length ranges from 1 ft 4 in to 1 ft 6 in. Arthur Windsor / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to Central America
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Conservation status: Unknown (insufficient data)

The green heron is quite small for a member of Ardeidae, reaching just 41 – 46 cm (1 ft 4 in – 1 ft 6 in) in length, with a wingspan of 66 cm (2 ft 2 in). This species has a stocky build, with a thick neck and short legs. The color of the back is gray or black with a green sheen, while the breast, neck, and upper back are chestnut, although the throat may have some white streaks.

This species is solitary and can typically be found foraging in lakes, ponds, marshes, and swamps. Nesting habitat is often in more secluded areas, such as willow thickets or mangroves: females lay between three and five eggs (although may have up to seven), and both parents are involved in incubating them and then feeding the young. The diet of the green heron includes small fish such as minnows and sunfish, crustaceans such as crayfish, aquatic insects, frogs, and reptiles.

10) Common loon (Gavia immer)

Common loon
Common loons have a striking appearance from April to August, with a striped breast and spotted back. Andrew Hrycyna / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to the northern US and Canada
  • Order: Gaviiformes
  • Family: Gaviidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The common loon is a large diving bird, reaching 70 – 90 cm (2 ft 4 in – 2 ft 11 in) in length, with a wingspan of 117 cm (3 ft 10 in). These birds have an elongated shape, with a very short tail and rounded head with a pointed bill. The coloration of this species varies depending on the time of year: from September to March individuals are gray with a white throat, whereas for the rest of the year, they display a striking black and white spotted back, striped black and white breast, and black on the neck and head.

This species prefers lakes surrounded by coniferous forests and tends to occupy larger lakes with an abundance of fish. Individuals use their feet to propel them underwater, where they dive down to catch species such as minnows, perch, and shad. Although common loons forage alone, they may flock at night.

The common loon has a ‘yodel-like’ call, which it produces day and night, particularly in early summer. These calls are highly individualized and may be involved in mate selection by the female. Interestingly, this species has also been found to call more in cold weather with low wind speed and air pressure.

11) Double-crested cormorant (Nannopterum auritum)

Double-crested cormorants
Double-crested cormorants have long, hooked beaks and an average wingspan of around 4 ft. Kristin M. Tolle / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Suliformes
  • Family: Phalacrocoracidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Double-crested cormorants are between 70 – 90 cm (2 ft 4 in – 2 ft 11 in) in length and have a wingspan of 114 – 123 cm (3 ft 9 in – 4 ft). This species has a long neck with a small head, and its body is streamlined, although is heavy and sits low in the water – these features are adaptations to this bird’s diving habits. The beak is long and hooked.

This species can be found in a number of habitats, but in Ohio, they are confined to lakes and rivers – its nesting habitat is in trees over water. Studies have found that human activity can significantly reduce the double-crested cormorants’ reproductive success, as disturbance by humans can increase the risk of predation on young by gulls.

The diet of double-crested cormorants includes fish, crabs, crayfish, frogs, salamanders, and mollusks. They dive to access their prey, using their webbed feet to propel them down through the water.

12) Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

Pied-billed grebe in water
Pied-billed grebes can often be found in quiet bodies of water with emergent vegetation. Connie Misket / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to the US and Canada
  • Order: Podicipediformes
  • Family: Podicipedidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The pied-billed grebe reaches 30 – 38 cm (1 ft – 1 ft 3 in) in length and has a wingspan of 40 – 60 cm (1 ft 4 in – 2 ft). This species is described as ‘small and chunky’ and has brown plumage that is slightly darker across the back. For most of the year, the bill is yellow-brown, however during breeding it turns white with a vertical black band.

Pied-billed grebes prefer quiet ponds and marshes with an abundance of emergent vegetation. In Ohio, these birds are frequently seen in the marshes near western Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay, particularly during years with heavier rainfall. They tend to nest near debris such as logs or dead trees, or amongst marsh vegetation.

Podilymbus podiceps dives to search for its prey, which includes insects, fish, mollusks, frogs, and leeches. However, individuals will also dive to escape predators: interestingly, research has found that ‘escape dives’ typically last longer than foraging dives.

13) Snowy egret (Egretta thula)

Snowy egret
Snowy egrets are small herons with snowy white plumage and black bills. James M. Maley / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North, Central, and South America
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The snowy egret is a small species of heron, which reaches 61 cm (2 ft) in length. Its wingspan is typically 100 cm (3 ft 3 in), and as the name suggests, its plumage is snowy white. The bill and legs are black, while the feet are bright yellow in color, and there is a patch of yellow where the bill meets the head, extending to the eye.

This species can be found in marshes, swamps, and ponds, where it uses its large feet to disturb its prey as it forages. Snowy egrets consume a variety of prey, including fish, insects, crustaceans, lizards, and rodents. A study into their feeding habits found that individuals tend to forage while walking or running, striking out with their beaks; this is a strategy that uses little energy.

During breeding season, adults develop enormous, curly feathers on the head, breast, and back – a feature that once saw these birds being slaughtered in great numbers. The female usually lays between three and five eggs, which are cared for by both parents – however, the youngest chick will often starve to death due to being outcompeted by its siblings.

14) Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Cattle egrets on branch
Cattle egrets originate from Africa but have expanded to many other continents in the past 150 years. Paul Hoekman / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to Africa
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The cattle egret can grow to a length of 50 cm (1 ft 8 in) with a wingspan of 90 cm (2 ft 11 in). The breeding plumage of this bird is white, with brown feathers on the crown, breast, and back, and a bright red bill and legs. Outside of the breeding season, individuals lack brown feathers, the bill is yellow, and the legs and feet are dark in color.

This species originated in Africa, but over the past 150 years has undergone a huge expansion and can now be found across multiple continents, including North America. These birds prefer open country, where they can often be seen following livestock or farm machinery – this is because they target disturbed ground, where they can easily access the terrestrial insects on which they feed.

Cattle egrets lay three to five eggs, and both sexes are involved in parental care, feeding the chicks by regurgitating food. Adults have to teach the first chick to eat by encouraging them to peck at the bolus of food that is offered – however any further chicks learn by copying their siblings, and thus the parents do not have to teach them.

15) Northern pintail (Anas acuta)

Northern pintail in water
During breeding season, male northern pintails have very distinct plumage, with a brown head, white neck, and black bill. Shiva Shenoy / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America, Europe, and Asia
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The northern pintail reaches lengths of 63 – 70 cm (2 ft 1 in – 2 ft 4 in), with a wingspan of 80 – 95 cm (2 ft 7 in – 3 ft 1 in). Individuals have very slender, streamlined bodies, with long, pointed tails (hence the name ‘pintail’). The males have very distinctive plumage during the breeding season, with a brown head, white neck, and black bill – outside of breeding season they are duller and more uniform brown in color. Females remain the same color regardless of the time of year: the head and breast are tan, the chin and belly white, and the bill black.

In Ohio, the northern pintail occupies wetlands surrounded by grassy dikes or hayfields, which present suitable nesting habitats. The diet of this species varies depending on the season: during fall and winter, it consumes plant material such as seeds and pondweeds, whereas in spring and summer, it feeds on roots and more animal matter, including insects, mollusks, and crustaceans.

16) Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Bufflehead in water
Male buffleheads can be identified by the iridescent sheen on their heads. Kevin Krebs / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The bufflehead ranges in length from 32 – 40 cm (1 ft 1 in – 1 ft 4 in) and has a wingspan of 60 cm (2 ft). The male’s body is white, the back is black, and the head is dark with a purple and green iridescent sheen – there is also a white band wrapping around the back of the head. In contrast, the female is gray-brown with a white cheek patch.

Bucephala albeola resides on lakes and rivers, and nests in woodland near the water – this species prefers deciduous or mixed woodland. The diet of the bufflehead predominantly consists of crustaceans and mollusks such as snails, but also includes aquatic insects, mollusks, and plant material.

During breeding season, the male courts the female by flicking the water with his bill, and preening the feathers along his back. Females lay between eight and ten eggs, which hatch after 29 – 31 days. Males do not contribute to the parental care of the eggs or young.

17) American wigeon (Mareca americana)

American wigeon
American wigeons can usually be found on large, inland marshes during summertime. Kalvin Chan / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The length of the American wigeon is between 42 – 59 cm (1 ft 5 in – 1 ft 11 in), while the wingspan ranges from 76 – 91 cm (2 ft 6 in – 3 ft). As with many species of duck, the American wigeon is sexually dimorphic. Females are brown in color, with mottling across the back and a gray-brown head. Their bill is pale gray with a black tip, and there is a dark ring encircling the eye. The body of the male is cinnamon brown in color, with a white rump and black tail. The front of the male’s neck is mottled, and an iridescent green stripe runs from around the eye, down the back of the neck. The top of the head is white, and the bill is white with a black tip.

During the summer, Mareca americana can be found on large, inland marshes, whereas in the winter it is more commonly seen on coastal estuaries or salt marshes. While many ducks congregate in the shallows to dabble, the American wigeon can frequently be seen over deep water or on land. They often steal from other birds such as coot.

18) Snow goose (Anser caerulescens)

Snow goose
In Ohio, snow geese can often be seen in the winter in a variety of habitats. Rocio Reybal / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The snow goose has a length of 70 cm (2 ft 4 in) and a wingspan of 150 cm (4 ft 11 in). This is quite a stocky bird, with a short neck. There are two color morphs: the white morph displays white plumage with black wing tips, while the blue morph has a dark body with a white head. Both morphs have pink legs and pink bills with a black stripe on the lower portion.

Snow geese tend to flock to Ohio in the winter, where they can be found on coastal or freshwater marshes, estuaries, or agricultural areas. This species’ appearance is very much ‘all or nothing’ – it is either seen in abundance or not seen at all.

The diet of the snow goose consists almost entirely of plant material. A study found that in winter this includes tubers and rhizomes, which provide essential amino acids and nitrogen. Other components of this species’ diet include cotton grass and northern scouring rush.

19) Common merganser (Mergus merganser)

Common merganser
Female common mergansers have rust-colored heads and gray bodies. Christoph Moning / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The common merganser ranges in length from 53 – 69 cm (1 ft 9 in – 2 ft 3 in), with a wingspan of 94 cm (3 ft 1 in). This species has a long body, with slender wings, and a narrow bill that is slightly hooked at the tip. It is sexually dimorphic: females display a gray body, with a white chest and a rusty-colored head with a shaggy crest. Males, on the other hand, have white bodies with a dark back, an iridescent green head, and a red bill.

The habitat preferences of this species include wooded rivers or lakes, where it feeds predominantly on fish, but also consumes mussels, shrimp, and salamanders. Individuals are quick to see if their conspecifics are feeding and will move closer to others to have the best chance of catching fish.

Observations of feeding behavior in common mergansers found that after seizing a fish, individuals surface, rear up and flap their wings, stretch their necks, and shake their tails. This has been suggested to aid in swallowing prey, however, this theory is yet to be researched.

20) Tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus)

Tundra swan
The tundra swan’s conservation status is least concern, but they may still be threatened by climate change and hunting, among other things. Dan MacNeal / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The tundra swan reaches 115 – 150 cm (3 ft 9 in – 4 ft 11 in) in length, with a wingspan of 168 – 211 cm (5 ft 6 in – 6 ft 11 in). This species has a heavy body and a long neck, and its plumage is entirely white, while its legs, feet, and bill are black. There is usually a yellow spot at the base of the bill.

Cygnus columbianus nests on Arctic tundra, and then migrates to spend winter on shallow lakes and slow-moving rivers – it is during the winter that this species can be seen in Ohio. The winter diet of tundra swans consists largely of grains found in agricultural fields. This species is sometimes known as the ‘whistling swan’ due to the sound it creates – although some reports suggest that this noise is not that different from that which a goose might make.

Although the conservation status of the tundra swan is that of least concern, factors such as climate change and hunting may still present a threat to populations. Competition from introduced species such as the mute swan may also cause declines in some areas.

21) Hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

Hooded merganser
Male hooded mergansers stand out more than their female counterparts. Anna Hess / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The hooded merganser reaches 40 – 49 cm (1 ft 4 in – 1 ft 7 in) in length, with a wingspan of 66 cm (2 ft 2 in). This bird has slender wings, a distinctive, fan-shaped crest, and a thin bill. Females and juveniles are gray and brown in color, while the males display a striking array of colors: black across the back, brown sides, a white chest, and a black head with a large white patch extending across the crest.

This species prefers wooded lakes or rivers, although if artificial nesting areas are provided, they may venture out into marshes. It forages by diving, using its feet to propel itself underwater, and consumes a diet of fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects – young stick to the latter item at first, as it is the easiest to source at the surface.

The use of nesting boxes by the hooded merganser may help sustain populations, especially in areas where habitat loss may be causing declines. As well as providing places for these birds to reproduce, nest boxes can be useful tools in research, enabling scientists to learn more about the species.

22) Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Although ospreys can be found throughout Ohio, you’re most likely to see them in the northeast and central regions. Judy Gallagher / CC BY 4.0
  • Found on every continent except Antarctica
  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Pandionidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The osprey reaches 52 – 60 cm (1 ft 8 in – 2 ft) in length, with a wingspan of up to 183 cm (6 ft). Individuals have a white belly, breast, and throat, with some brown mottling across the breast, while the wings and back are dark brown. Adults have yellow eyes and a black, curved beak. This species is sexually dimorphic: females are considerably larger than males and have a darker head.

Pandion haliaetus can be found near large water bodies where there is an abundance of fish – common prey species include flounder, bullhead, and gizzard shad, although these birds will also target small mammals or reptiles. In Ohio, this species is most easily spotted in the northeast and central regions, although it may be found throughout the state.

In the past, osprey populations were severely affected by pesticides such as DDT – this chemical could be found at high concentrations within eggs and was also associated with thin eggshells and reduced productivity. Since the use of DDT was banned, populations have begun to recover.

23) Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)

Ring-billed gull
At lakes, the ring-billed gull diet consists of earthworms, fish, and insects. James M. Maley / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to Canada and the northern US
  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Laridae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The ring-billed gull is between 43 – 54 cm (1 ft 5 in – 1 ft 9 in) long, with a wingspan of 122 cm (4 ft). The back and tops of the wings of this species are gray, while the underside is white. The wing tips are black, with white spots, and the legs and bill are yellow, with a black ring encircling the bill.

Typical habitat for the ring-billed gull includes lakes and plowed fields, however in Ohio, this species is commonly found at landfill sites. Populations of Larus delawarensis at landfill sites will eat an enormous variety of anthropogenic food, while populations at lakes consume fish, insects, and earthworms.

Ring-billed gulls flock and form large colonies, a strategy that provides them with benefits such as gaining information about potential predators. Research has also found that in some cases, females will pair up and rear ‘supernormal clutches’ – clutches with an abnormal number of eggs – that arise from unpaired females dumping their eggs. The growth in these chicks is often stunted, and the reason for this adaptation is not yet known.

24) Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

Killdeer with young
Killdeers are ground-nesting birds, which means their eggs and young are at risk of predation. Roy Cohutta-Brown / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North, Central, and South America
  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Charadriidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The killdeer is a species of plover that reaches lengths of 23 – 27 cm (9 – 11 in), with a wingspan of 59 – 63 cm (1 ft 11 in – 2 ft 1 in). These birds have a large head in relation to their body, with a large eye and small bill. Both sexes display brown plumage across their back and upper wings, and white on the belly and chest, with two black bands across the chest. The rump is orange, but this can only be seen in flight.

Charadrius vociferus is an adaptable species and can be found in a wide range of habitats: mudflats, fields, riverbanks, airports, and lawns. It feeds on various terrestrial insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and fly larvae, and will also consume spiders, crayfish, and snails.

As a ground-nesting bird, the killdeer is susceptible to predation of its eggs and young. It engages in a distinctive antipredator display, in which it produces the appearance of having a broken wing in an attempt to draw the predator away from the nest. However, in some cases, this strategy may prove fatal to the adult bird.

25) American black duck (Anas rubripes)

American black duck
In Ohio, American black duck populations have decreased in recent years, possibly due to pollution and other factors. Alexis Williams / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to eastern North America
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The American black duck reaches 48 – 63 cm (1 ft 7 in – 2 ft 1 in) in length, with a wingspan of 88 – 96 cm (2 ft 11 in – 3 ft 2 in). The shape of these birds is very similar to that of mallards; however, this species can be distinguished by its plumage. The body is very dark brown in color, while the head is slightly paler – females tend to have paler plumage overall. The secondary wing feathers are vibrant purple and are only visible in flight. Males have a yellow-green bill, while in females, the bill is olive-colored.

These birds are found in marshes, ponds, rivers, and lakes – they are often found in salt marshes with an abundance of emergent vegetation. Populations of the American black duck in Ohio have decreased considerably over recent years – this decline may be due to competition from mallards, pollution, and wetland conversion.

The American black duck can hybridize with the mallard. Research examining the DNA of these two species has found that over an approximate fifty-year period, the genetic distance between them has decreased significantly.

26) Belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

Belted kingfisher on branch
Female belted kingfishers can be identified by a chestnut-colored band across their belly. Arthur Windsor / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North and Central America
  • Order: Coraciiformes
  • Family: Alcedinidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The belted kingfisher reaches 33 cm (1 ft 1 in) in length, with a wingspan of up to 58 cm (1 ft 11 in). It is a stocky bird, with a large head and a shaggy crest, and a thick, pointed bill. Both sexes have a blue-gray head, breast, wings, and back, and a white belly and throat – however, females also have a chestnut-colored band across the belly, making them easy to distinguish.

This species can be found near streams and lakes – it is known for its ‘rattling’ call, which it produces as it flies over the water. Individuals spend much of their time perched high up or hovering, ready to swoop down and pluck a fish from the water. Their diet consists primarily of fish; however, they may also consume crayfish, tadpoles, and aquatic insects.

Belted kingfishers nest in vertical banks; research has found that they prefer sandy banks to clay. The nest itself is a horizontal tunnel, which may become littered with fish bones and scales throughout its use. Females usually lay six or seven eggs, and both parents are involved in the incubation and rearing of the young.

27) Sora (Porzana carolina)

Sora in water
Soras live a wading lifestyle and therefore have adaptations to help them, such as long legs and large toes. Jeff Clark / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North, Central, and South America
  • Order: Gruuiformes
  • Family: Rallidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The sora ranges in length from 19 – 30 cm (7.5 in – 1 ft), with a wingspan of 30 cm (1 ft). These birds have a stocky build, relatively long legs, and very large toes — all adaptations to suit their wading lifestyle. The coloration of this species is mottled gray and brown, with white edging on the feathers. The face and throat are pale gray, while the bill is bright yellow, and they have a black mask extending to the eye.

The preferred habitat of the sora includes both freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as wet meadows. During breeding season, it seeks areas with emergent vegetation and is especially fond of cattail. The diet of this species includes seeds, insects, and snails. Interestingly, research has shown that these birds are capable of diving and swimming in areas where the water is too deep for them to wade.

28) Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Anhinga eating fish
Anhingas are known to consume catfish, gizzard shad, pickerel, and mullet. Eridan Xharahi / CC BY 4.0
  • Native to North, Central, and South America
  • Order: Suliformes
  • Family: Anhingidae
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The anhinga can attain a length of 89 cm (2 ft 11 in), with a wingspan of up to 114 cm (3 ft 9 in). These birds are long and slender, with fan-like tails – in flight, they are described as looking ‘cross-shaped’. Male anhingas are almost entirely black in color, with silver or white streaks across the back and wings, while females display this same coloration but have a pale brown, head, neck, and breast. The bill is yellow.

This species prefers quiet waters, such as freshwater marshes or slow-moving rivers. It hunts by both swimming and waiting at the surface, using its pointed bill to strike and impale its prey. Common fish species consumed by the anhinga include catfish, mullet, pickerel, and gizzard shad – although individuals have also been reported to consume crayfish, shrimp, and snakes.

Charlotte P
About the author

Charlotte P

I'm passionate about wildlife and ecology and hold a degree in Zoology and a masters in Clinical Animal Behaviour. I'm fascinated by the ways animals adapt to their environments and cope with challenges. I am scientifically minded and dedicate much of my time to reading and research into my subject areas.

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