Thousands of birding enthusiasts will flock to Northwest Ohio on May 3-12 for the fourth annual The Biggest Week in American Birding event.
The three previous Biggest Week events drew more people than the one before it, and this year’s festival will draw birders not only nationally but from such countries as Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and China.
Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor, said that’s no accident. “We have put tremendous effort into marketing this area and using a lot of partnerships, like Birds and Bloom magazine, BirdWatching magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest and Audubon Magazine,” she said. “Last year, we were featured in Spirit Magazine, which is the in-flight magazine for Southwest Airlines.
Early Birds - One week before "The Biggest Week"
Den“Nationally and internationally, this festival is becoming one of the top birding festivals in the country. Certainly, word of mouth is a component, but out (BSBO) marketing effort has been reaching a lot of people. We’re including a strong tourism component into our mission.”
Kaufman said this year’s theme is “Birding Is For Everyone,” and the event will again include birding workshops and bus trips to various birding locations in Ohio and Michigan.
“We had just under 64,000 people here between the end of April and the middle of May last year,” Kaufman said. “I expect that number to continue to increase every year, because it has been. Our marketing efforts are reaching more and more people.
“Black Swamp added the new website (biggestweekinamericanbirding.com) this year. We wanted something fresh and new. We’re adding new events and activities that outgrew the reach of the old website. This allows the new website to be treated almost like a blog, where we can add content in a much more fluid way.”
The festival headquarters will be Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, but there will be a lot going on at BSBO, Kaufman said.
“Bus trips are taking people into four counties – Lucas, Ottawa, Erie and Sandusky,” she said.
“We’re also running some trips into Michigan this year, to Point Mouillee State Game Area in Monroe County. All of our bus trips leave out of Maumee Bay and go out to birding areas. Point Mouillee has always been really good for shorebirds and waterfowl. It’s an interesting place and not that far to take people.”
The goal of each The Biggest Week festival is to raise awareness and appreciation for birds and habitat conservation. In 2012, The Biggest Week helped raise more than $25,000 for local bird research, education and conservation in Northwest Ohio. The festival also raised funds to purchase 200 copies of Guia de campo a las aves de Norteamerica, Spanish-language bird guide that serves as a valuable tool for diversity outreach programs in the desert Southwest and northern Mexico.
Proceeds from the 2012 Biggest Week also provided funding to help build a new shorebird viewing platform on the Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and continued development of the new Crane Creek Estuary Trail near the Magee Marsh Boardwalk.
Hundreds of different kinds of birds will be on display during The Biggest Week, but the “stars” of the annual spring get-together in this part of the state are the warblers.
“This is one of the best places in the world to see so many warblers in one place,” Kaufman said. “Last year birders saw 222 (bird) species, including 37 warbler species.”
Kaufman added that BSBO is “really pumping up our efforts” to get local people to come out and try birding. Several workshops have been set up to teach people about bird watching.
“This festival is so unique,” she said. “We get birders from all ages, all walks of life. This is a massive influx of people and birds coming together in Northwest Ohio. We’re doing some Urban Bird Walks with Toledo Metroparks. We’ll visit Toledo Metroparks and try to get people out birding.”
The Metroparks walks are scheduled to be led by two African-American birders, Doug Gray and Dr. Drew Lanham. They are working to encourage people of color to go birding and will host speaking engagements and Urban Birding Walks during The Biggest Week.
Kaufman stressed that, yes, The Biggest Week in American Birding is about birds and bird watching, but there is a more all-consuming effort each year the festival is held here.
“We want people to come here and have a good time, “Kaufman said. “It’s such a huge economic boost for the region, but we hope it helps people become much more invested in protecting the habitat that brings the birds here. If we don’t conserve the habitat, the birds aren’t going to come and the birders aren’t going to come.”
For more information on The Biggest Week in American Birding, visit www.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com.