- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

WEST UNION, Ohio (AP) - When it comes to love, male tropical songbirds could post up on a beach, puff their brightly colored chests and chirp-chirp-chirp away until the lady songbird of their dreams flits down for a romantic rendezvous in the sand.

Instead, they come to Ohio.

Every spring, hundreds of millions of birds from South America, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean muster their strength, hit the skies and travel north, looking for a lovebird of their own.

Some species make it to Columbus or beyond, but many fly no farther than southwestern Ohio, where acres of uninterrupted forest offer ample homes and food for their spring break flings.

Every year, more than 150 bird species leave their winter homes and migrate north through the United States, sweeping up in giant arcs from the tropics to Florida, Texas, the Carolinas and onward. They come to Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York to feed on insects and mate. Some species, such as the black-and-white warbler, end up as far north as Canada.

In Ohio, Adams County might as well be covered in rose petals and champagne - its trees are that attractive to tropical songbirds looking for love.

Consider the yellow-throated warbler.

During a recent weekday field trip to the Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County, this little bird with its yellow chin and black-and-white striped head was spotted jumping from branch to branch, letting out a cheerful song along the way.

It’s hard to believe that this little bird that weighs less than a half-ounce flew clear across the Gulf of Mexico and half of the continental United States to shake his tail feathers.

“They’ve got a 4,000- or 5,000-mile one-way fight,” said Jim McCormac, a wildlife specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources who led the field trip.

Part of the appeal to the birds, McCormac said, is how much real estate there is in southwestern Ohio.

And there is no spot in Ohio with more biodiversity than the 16,000-acre Edge of Appalachia Preserve, he said.

Rich McCarty, a Nature Conservancy naturalist at the preserve, agrees.

“There are 180 species of birds in Ohio and probably 110 of them are nesting in this area,” McCarty said. “That’s incredible. You don’t find that anymore.”

The preserve is operated by the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Another part of the appeal, McCarty said, is the food.

The soil in the Edge of Appalachia varies because of the way glaciers moved across Ohio tens of thousands of years ago. The more kinds of soils, the wider variety of plants. The more plants means a wider variety of insects that feed on those plants.

Migratory birds come to eat those insects - mostly caterpillars - and mate, McCormac said.

“If they can get out of the tropics, they’ve eliminated all that competition (for food and mates),” he said. “The trade-off is they face this treacherous journey to get here - predatory raptors, towers, buildings, windows.

“It’s basically the promised land, but you really run the gauntlet to get there.”

The annual migration has made the Edge of Appalachia Preserve a destination for bird watchers who travel there from across the nation in the hopes of spotting a northern parula, a black-and-white warbler or a scarlet tanager.

During our brief field trip, McCormac and preserve director Chris Bedel and several other enthusiasts zipped through the preserve, listening for songbirds and pointing out the species they spotted in the trees and shrubs.

There’s a prairie warbler, bright yellow on its underside and streaked with deep olive green on its top. It was perched on a cedar tree, singing its telltale zee-zee-zee-zee-zee-zee song.

The bird lives in Florida but winters in the Caribbean and migrates north in the spring, looking for food and a mate.

Like most songbirds, he’ll stay in his mating grounds only a few months before returning south.

“He’ll eat any insects, but caterpillars are like steaks if they can get them,” McCormac said.

And there’s a northern parula, a blue-gray bird with a yellow chest, hanging out in some brush not far from a creek. “They like to hide in the bushes,” Bedel said.

McCarty said the Edge of Appalachia has started to expand its footprint east to connect the preserve with Shawnee State Forest.

That connection, dubbed “the sunshine corridor,” could create longer backpacking and hiking trails, preserve more wild land, and create an even better habitat for native and migratory birds.


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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