First-time visitors to the vast grasslands of the Wilds might think they’ve been beamed onto the plains of Africa. Understandable, as not many birders associate the southeastern Ohio hill country with thousands of acres of grass. But we’ve got fields aplenty and great birding.
Henslow’s Sparrow, the secretive bird with a song like an anemic cricket, is a draw. It occurs in huge numbers and shouldn’t be missed in summer. Many other grassland breeders join it, including so many Bobolinks that their bubbling sometimes drowns out other birds. Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows? Dime a dozen.
My most memorable birding experiences at the Wilds come from winter. Bundle up; cool air driven by whistling winds will frost your ears. Well worth it, though, as raptors abound. This is the only Ohio site where Golden Eagles winter, sometimes up to three individuals. They are joined by scads of Rough-legged Hawks down from the Arctic, Northern Harriers, and Short-eared Owls; in 1999 as many as 55 owls were seen at one time! — Jim McCormac
Primarily grassland. Also lakes, wetlands, and forests.
Lightly traveled roads, some unpaved.
Winter: Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, Short-eared Owl, and other raptors, and Northern Shrike. Grassland breeders: Henslow’s Sparrow, Dickcissel, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark. Shrublands: Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Orchard Oriole. Woodlands: Cerulean Warbler, Broad-winged Hawk, and Scarlet Tanager. Migration brings large numbers and diversity of waterfowl to area ponds. Rarities: Long-tailed Duck and all three scoters.
When to go
May through August for breeders; December through February for raptors. Check website for regular bird-related events.
Guided safaris allow visitors to see free-roaming rhinos, bison, cheetahs, and other animals. Restaurant and gift shop open May to October. Great birds can often be seen from the windows. General store in nearby Cumberland. Lodging and other amenities in Zanesville, about 25 minutes away.
Private wildlife conservation center. Free Birding Station at Jeffrey Point on SR 284 open daily year-round. Safari prices range from $18-$65. Safaris operate daily June through August and on weekends in May, September, and October. Roads bisecting the area are open to the public.
Spotting scope very useful; raptors are often spotted at extreme distances. Be wary of unpaved road conditions in winter or after rains; four-wheel drive can be an asset.