The Wilds is a large reclaimed surface mine grassland area that has abundant wintering raptors and grassland nesting birds. Surrounding the Wilds (9200 acres) is thousands of acres of AEP RE-Creation lands that have similar habitats. While most of the region is this rolling grassland, there are also areas of ponds, lakes, wetlands, spoils forest, and remnant hardwood forests. Wide-open vistas make hawk-watching possible. Main roads are hard-topped, but many roads are light-duty (gravel and dirt) and can be treacherous in wet seasons.
Birders are reminded that many of the coal-haul roads can be very bad in any season and that they are numerous and confusing. Getting stuck out there could mean a very long walk out. Some areas are beginning to be overgrown into thickets of autumn olive and planted young stands of black pine and green ash. Birding from the roadside is the suggested practice as these are private lands and many are posted for no trespassing. Groups can schedule special tours, workshops from the Wilds lodge, and hikes across remote areas of the Wilds. Checklists of birds seen at the Wilds are available on the Wilds website. Special “Winter on the Wilds” programs also offer birders a chance to see the area, guided by Wilds naturalists.
From Zanesville, take OH-146 east of Zanesville, take OH-284 southeast from Chandlersville, and take International Road to the main parking lot area of the Wilds.
The Wilds is open for naturalist-guided bus tours of the Wildlife Conservation Park from May 1 to October 31 on weekends, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day from Wednesday through Sunday. Breeding facilities and open-range pastures for worldwide endangered wildlife give you the opportunity to see rhino, giraffe, oryx, bison, and over 20 other hoofed mammals. Perimeter roads are open for birding any time of the year.
The main parking lot is located on International Road. A birdwatcher lookout is located near High Hill along OH-284.
A free permit is necessary to access the AEP ReCreation Land.
The Wilds is private property and birders who seek permission to bird on the Wilds must be accompanied by a Wilds staff person due to the inherent dangers of large mammals on the property.
Reclaimed mines have numerous inherent dangers. Roads can be treacherous in wet seasons and may have scrap metal and rock shard tire hazards. Walking over areas can expose persons to very rugged terrain, high wall cliffs, pits hidden in grassy areas, boulder drain ways, and deep sediment pools.
The Wilds has group camps available for birders at the Conservation Yurt Camp, the Lodge, and a primitive campsite. Summer camps are available for wildlife-loving kids as well.
Also, see BirdWatchingDaily website
Take I-70 to Zanesville, then the marked exit to The Wilds (OH-146 east). After about 17 miles, the countryside will abruptly open up and you will see a big sign for The Wilds on the right. Turn here, on Zion Ridge Road. It is mostly birding by car from here.
You will pass through a big open country here, with lots of potential. The usual criteria for finding raptors apply: eagles may be soaring high on a sunny day and most raptors will be perched if it is raining. Perches are at a premium: check dead trees on wooded margins, utility poles, hay bales, and fence posts. Scott Road, though it appears on the map, is not open to the public, and is almost always gated.
When Zion Ridge ends at OH-284, take a left. Before long you’ll see another big Wilds sign on the left; this is International Road. It has been the most fruitful stretch for golden eagles and the prairie falcon has been seen here on a number of occasions. Big vistas, worth frequent stops to scan. The Headquarters of The Wilds can be reached by taking a dirt road about halfway along this route if the gate’s open. There is more habitat here, plus views of some of the exotic animals — giraffes, elk, horses, and more.
International Road descends into a wooded area before it ends at OH-340. This is a birdy spot, with lots of different habitats visible, but not for open-country raptors. Turn right on OH-340. As at all spots, proceed carefully, scan all perches, look for raptors in flight, check especially for harriers and rough-legs harassing another raptor, and birds soaring very high.
Look for a dirt road heading uphill on the left not far from International Road. Take this up into open country again. At the next intersection, Prouty Road (unsigned), go the short distances both right and left (both are blocked off within a quarter mile) for prospects, especially perches on hay bales. Return to the intersection, continue on the original dirt road, and explore it and the next road both left and right. Then retrace your route back to paved OH-340, turn left, and go to OH-284 again.
Turn left on OH-284 and go about half a mile to Rural Dale Road on the left (you will pass Rural Dale turn to the right along the way), and turn left. Bird Rural Dale. The first left will be the rest of Prouty Road that had been blocked off to you before; check this out, especially the hay bales and any dead trees. Return to Rural Dale and check out other passable side roads, always returning to Rural Dale, for the next 2-3 miles. The hay bales and these side roads have been productive for the prairie falcon.
Return to OH-284, and return to any of the previous areas; the birds move around constantly, and any place you’ve found empty once could be productive on a subsequent visit. This route covers all the sites where golden eagles and the prairie falcon have been seen in past years.
Raptors – all phases of Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owls, Bald and Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcon, Eastern Meadowlarks, Trumpeter Swans.
Woodland migrants are especially good at small copses of forest throughout the area as they seem to funnel birds to these areas from the large grassland areas. Henslow’s Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Bobolinks are especially abundant in the large grassland expanses.
Ponds and lakes are especially good for shorebirds, Osprey, terns, waders, etc. in late August and early September.
Waterfowl diversity is fairly high, but never in great numbers.
Please, note that leaving roadways and walking on Wilds property is not permitted.
The Wilds is a private, non-profit safari park and conservation center that combines cutting-edge conservation science and education programs with hands-on experiences and one-of-a-kind adventures that include ziplining, horseback riding, fishing, and more. Located in southeast Ohio, the Wilds is home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in natural, open-range habitats.
The property encompasses 9,154 acres or approximately 14 square miles and includes 2,000 acres of pastures and a 27-acre Carnivore Conservation Center. The Wilds is designated an Audubon Important Bird Area so the property includes a birding station with a covered lookout as well as a butterfly habitat with hiking trails, more than 15 miles of mountain bike and hiking trails, and approximately 150 lakes.
With nearly 10,000 acres of grasslands, woodlands, wetlands, and lakes, the Wilds is home to a great diversity of bird species. Audubon has recognized the Wilds as one of Ohio’s Important Bird Areas, and birdwatchers from near and far have discovered the abundance of bird life here.
Restrooms on site
Content from Ohio Ornithological Society, Bill Whan, and The Wilds webpage