Northern Harrier - Photo USFWS

Most birds fly. So do airplanes. But, while airplanes need airports, birds don’t.

Observation area at OSU airport – Photo by Gerry Brevoort

So why were we hanging out at The Ohio State University airport (aka Don Scott Field)? Oh sure, it was nice and warm inside the airport building, but we were supposed to be on a birding field trip!

It turns out that airports have something that some birds like: big areas of grass. More specifically, raptors like those nice big fields that harbor lots of little prey, such as voles. Mystery solved! We were birding from the observation area on the second floor of the airport main building to look for wintering raptors.

Starlings steaming past the window – Video by Gerry Brevoort

And we saw them: good numbers of Northern Harriers, which hunt by flying low over the ground and diving to pounce when they see or even hear a small mammal. A few Red-tailed Hawks perched on poles and signposts, from which they would swoop down on unsuspecting prey. At least one American Kestrel put on a show by hovering in place continually, then dropping like a stone to catch a mouse or vole. Even the starlings put on a show, as murmurations flew toward and over the huge window in front of us.

A few visitors did stop by to join us in the observation area to look at airplanes. No doubt they were at first amused to find crazy people with binoculars and scopes focused on birds, not planes. But one look through a scope at a beautiful male Harrier produced ooohs and aaaahs, along with exclamations of delight from a couple of little kids.

The one “target” bird that we did not see in our hour at the airport was the Short-eared Owl. Several of us plan to revisit the airport someday soon at dusk when these amazing raptors take wing to do their own hunting.

Learn more about the OSU airport, including hours of operation, at the airport website.

Here are the species that we saw:

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  200
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  10
Red-tailed Hawk (borealis) (Buteo jamaicensis borealis)  8
Red-tailed Hawk (abieticola) (Buteo jamaicensis abieticola)  1     Photos; very dark-fronted
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  42
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  2200

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