Local businesses offer deals to birders

As birders pack their binoculars, bird books and gear for the Biggest Week in American Birding, Brenda Lowe is getting ready to welcome them by baking dozens of famous homemade pies and hummingbird cake.

During the Biggest Week, an annual festival in May that brings birders to Northwest Ohio to see colorful warblers and birds heading north on spring migration, and the weeks before and after the festival, her restaurant, Blackberry Corners in Martin, goes through 200 to 300 pies a week. This year, the Biggest Week is May 5-14.

Birders flock to Blackberry Corners, a short drive from festival hotspots Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, for its signature pizzas, hummingbird cake (a delectable concoction Lowe describes as being a bit like carrot cake that is made with ripe banana, crushed pineapple, pecans and three-layer cream cheese frosting) and “lifer pie.” Many like to celebrate seeing a lifer, a bird they have never seen before, with a slice of one of Lowe’s pies, ranging from cherry to peanut butter. 

“It’s phenomenal,” Lowe said of the business from birders. “It’s a good chunk of my year’s income. We’re expecting a great year. We’re looking forward to seeing the birders back. It’s always nice when they come, and we’re always sad when they leave.”  

Those are the reasons Blackberry Corners is part of Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Birds & Business Alliance, a program that promotes local businesses to visiting birders and to create a network to communicate conservation issues with local business partners.

“They’re all great, great people,” Lowe says of the Black Swamp staff and volunteers. “They do bring a lot of business my way, and I sure do appreciate it.”

Black Swamp Bird Observatory, in partnership with Shores and Islands Ohio and Destination Toledo, organizes the annual Biggest Week, which is in its 12th year. The festival, as well as the spring birding migration in general, boosts business during the weeks before what is traditionally the busy summer tourist season, says Larry Fletcher, President of Shores and Island Ohio. 

Hotels, restaurants, shops, and other businesses benefit from the visitors, and many offer discounts or specials for birders. 

Through the Shores and Islands Ohio Shore Savings Program, local businesses offer deals specific to birders. Deals include discounts at campgrounds in the Sandusky area, including Camp Sandusky and Crystal Rock Campground; lodging stays from Catawba Island to Huron; and savings on golf cart rentals at Erie Island Carts at Put-in-Bay. See the full list here.

The festival usually has about 1,500 registrants, but it and birding migration draw an estimated 75,000 to 90,000 people to the region each year, said Kimberly Kaufman, Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory. The Biggest Week’s economic impact in 2016, the latest year for which Black Swamp has data, was $40 million, she said, citing Black Swamp’s research.

Having that kind of benefit to the local economy was one of the goals when the Biggest Week started, Kaufman says.

“We do tourism better than anyone in the world in Northwest Ohio,” she says. “We know how to welcome them and bring them back.”