What kinds of birds can you find in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
This question is hard to answer because of the vast number of birds found in the park. Did you know there have been over 250 species recorded here? As you can imagine, there was no way to include this many birds in the below article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Below I have listed the TEN birds you are most likely to find while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
#1. Great Blue Heron
- A very tall and large water bird, with a long neck and a wide black stripe over its eye.
- As the name suggests, they are a grayish-blue color.
- Long feather plumes on their head, neck, and back.
Great Blue Herons are typically seen in Cuyahoga Valley National Park along the edges of the Cuyahoga River and other lakes and wetlands.
Great Blue Heron Range Map
Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies in Cleveland for a LARGE water bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard when in flight. Listen below!
#2. Wood Duck
How to identify:
- Males have very intricate plumage. Look for the green crested head, red eyes, and chestnut breast with white flecks.
- Females have brown bodies with a grayish head, which is also slightly crested. White teardrop eye patch and a blue patch on the wing.
Walt Disney used to say that “the world is a carousel of color,” and few waterfowl have taken this more to heart than the male Wood Duck. In fact, it looks like an artist used every color to paint a duck that has green, red, orange, lime, yellow, buff, rose, brown, tan, black, white, gray, purple, and blue coloring.
Wood Duck Range Map
This is one of the few duck species in Cuyahoga Valley National Park you may see in a tree! Wood Ducks use abandoned tree cavities for nesting, but they also readily take to elevated nesting boxes.
When hatchlings leave the nest for the first time, they often have to make a giant leap of faith (up to 50 feet) to the ground below! You have to watch the video below to believe it. 🙂
Interestingly, Wood Ducks are perfectly evolved for their life spent in trees. Their claws are powerful, which allows them to perch and grasp onto branches!
The most common sound heard from Wood Ducks is when they are disturbed. I’ve often accidentally come upon them only to hear them flying away saying “ooeek-ooeek” loudly!
#3. Northern Cardinal
- Cardinalis cardinalis
- Males are a stunning red with a black mask and throat.
- Females are pale orangish-brown with red on their crest, wings, and tail.
- Both sexes have a crest on their head and a short, thick bill that is perfect for cracking seeds.
Northern Cardinal Range Map
Without a doubt, the Northern Cardinal is one of the most popular birds in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They are not only beautifully colored, but they are common to see!
And with a little practice, it’s easy to identify Northern Cardinals by their songs and sounds. Interestingly, unlike most other songbirds in the United States, even females sing
- The most common song you will probably hear is a series of clear whistled melodies that sound like the bird is saying “birdie-birdie-birdie” or “cheer-cheer-cheer.” (Listen below!)
#4. Bald Eagle
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
The Bald Eagle is one of the most recognizable birds in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
But did you know that the “Bald” portion of their name has nothing to do with not having feathers on their head? As you can clearly see, these eagles have white feathers covering their entire face with no bald spots anywhere. Their name actually stems from an Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch” and refers to their bright white heads.
While almost everyone knows what a full-grown Bald Eagle looks like, trying to correctly identify juvenile birds is tricky. These eagles don’t get their characteristic white head and dark brown body until they are FIVE YEARS OLD. Until then, these birds have all sorts of different plumages and streaky browns and whites on their bodies. Even their beak changes color! It takes A LOT of practice and experience to identify young Bald Eagles properly!
Bald Eagle Range Map
The reason that Bald Eagles are found around water is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.
Did you know that Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world?
Their nests start “small,” but eagles add new layers each year. The biggest one EVER found was 10 feet wide (3 meters) and 20 feet tall (6 meters) and weighed in at 3 tons! Bald Eagles would keep adding to their nests each year, but what happens is that the structures get so heavy they eventually fall out of the tree, and the birds have to start over.
The Bald Eagle probably doesn’t sound like what you think. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles. In fact, movie directors are so unimpressed with the sounds a Bald Eagle makes, it’s common for them to use the call of a Red-tailed Hawk instead for dramatic effect!
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black butt with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely one of the most common water birds in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
Mallard Range Map
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.
#6. Red-winged Blackbird
- Males are all black, except for a bright red and yellow patch on their shoulders.
- Females are brown and heavily streaked. There is a bit of yellow around their bill.
- Both sexes have a conical bill and are commonly seen sitting on cattails or perched high in a tree overlooking their territory.
During the breeding season, these birds are almost exclusively found in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in marshes and other wet areas. Females build nests in between dense grass-like vegetation, such as cattails, sedges, and bulrushes. Males aggressively defend the nest against intruders, and I have even been attacked by Red-winged Blackbirds while walking near the swamp in my backyard!
Red-winged Blackbird Range Map
When it’s the nonbreeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of their time in grasslands, farm fields, and pastures looking for weedy seeds to eat. It’s common for them to be found in large flocks that feature various other blackbird species, such as grackles, cowbirds, and starlings.
Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to identify by their sounds!
If you visit a wetland or marsh in spring, you are almost guaranteed to hear males singing and displaying, trying to attract a mate. Listen for a rich, musical song, which lasts about one second and sounds like “conk-la-ree!“
#7. Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most prevalent birds of prey in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
These large raptors are often seen soaring in the sky or perched on a fence post. The color of a Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage can be anything from nearly white to virtually black, so coloration is not a reliable indicator. The best way to identify them is by looking for their characteristic red tail. 🙂
Red-tailed Hawk Range Map
These hawks are highly adaptable, and there is no real description of their preferred habitats because they seem to be comfortable everywhere.
Red-tailed Hawks have impressive calls that are easily identified.
In fact, people are so enamored with their screams it’s common for directors to use the sounds of a Red-tailed Hawk to replace Bald Eagles that appear in movies. In case you have never heard one, Bald Eagles don’t make sounds that live up to their appearance (putting it nicely!)
#8. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar birds in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats. These thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they are abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit.
These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue color eggs. American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, which is a familiar sound in spring. (Listen below)
Many people describe the sound as sounding like the bird is saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”
#9. Eastern Bluebird
- Males are vibrant blue with a rusty chest and throat and fairly easy to identify.
- Females look similar, but the colors are much more subdued.
Few birds are as pretty in the Cuyahoga Valley as an Eastern Bluebird. Thanks to their cheerful disposition and amazing beauty, these birds are always a pleasure to see, both for birders and non-birders alike!
Eastern Bluebird Range Map
Look for them in meadows, fields, cemeteries, golf courses, and parks!
You can also listen for Eastern Bluebirds!
These birds have a beautiful call. Listen for a liquid-sounding warbling song that consists of 1—3 notes, which is typically given several times in a row.
#10. Song Sparrow
- Chest has brown streaks that converge onto a central breast spot.
- Head has a brown crown with a grey stripe down the middle. Also, look for a grey eyebrow and cheek.
- Back and body are mostly rust-brown with gray streaks throughout.
Sparrows can be incredibly difficult to identify, due to how many types of sparrows there are and the fact they look very similar. But luckily, Song Sparrows are one of the easier sparrow species to determine correctly.
Song Sparrow Range Map
These birds are common in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, especially in wet, shrubby, and open areas.
Unlike other birds that nest in trees, Song Sparrows primarily nest in weeds and grasses. Many times you will find them nesting directly on the ground.
My favorite feature of Song Sparrows is their beautiful songs that can be heard across the continent. The typical one, which you can listen to below, consists of three short notes followed by a pretty trill. The song varies depending on location and the individual bird.
Which of these birds have you seen before in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, check out these guides!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!