Wings Over Cuyahoga Valley

“I hope my work honors all creatures regardless of size or recognition.” — Jim Roetzel


People and Birds

A male oriole lands on a tree by a nest with a female resting inside.
Baseball has made this colorful bird famous. Baltimore orioles prefer weaving their distinctive nests in sycamores, a tall tree with patchy white bark that grows along waterways. As habitat has improved along the Cuyahoga River in recent decades, orioles have become much more common.

© Jim Roetzel

Wherever you go, birds are all around. Sometimes they are fleeting flashes of bright color. Other times they capture our attention, dazzling us with their singing, their variety, and their feats of endurance. As neighbors who share our spaces, they can be charming—or annoying. Artists are attracted to their beauty. For park scientists, studying birds is a way to measure the health of our environment. What comes to your mind when you think about birds?

Wings Over Cuyahoga Valley was originally imagined as a traveling exhibit. Through the masterful bird photography of Jim Roetzel, it explores the relationships between people and nature. Since COVID-19 delayed those plans, we will be rolling out a series of short online videos on different themes. Through his work, Jim strives to reveal the beauty in the common and the wonder in the world just beyond our doorstep. He finds photography one of the most powerful ways to share the spirit of natural places.

Wings Over Cuyahoga Valley is presented by Tinkers Creek Watershed Partners and the National Park Service. The curators are Mary Grodek, Arrye Rosser, and Joe Valencic.

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4 minutes, 5 seconds

Earth Day turned 50 on April 22, 2020. What do birds tell us about the state of our environment? This slideshow of images by Jim Roetzel explores conservation successes and emerging challenges at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.


Capturing Personality

A black-capped chickadee perches on bright red berries.

Black-capped chickadee

Credit: © Jim Roetzel

A Canada goose flies in for a landing at Kendall Lake.

Canada Goose

Credit: © Jim Roetzel

Begin by looking closely at this portrait of a black-capped chickadee. As regulars at bird feeders, they are familiar to many people. What do you see in its expression? Jim Roetzel commented, “I am very impressed by small birds. They don’t get photographed nearly as much as top predators such as hawks, owls, and eagles. However, they deserve to be photographed with the same zeal and craft as the larger stars of the avian world. What I particularly like about this image is the pose. There is a suggestion of movement—just before the chickadee flies off—and the look in the chickadee’s eyes. I don’t remember what made it look up, but I think this makes the shot.”

Chickadees are known for being bold and curious. Their habits don’t bring them into conflict with people. In contrast, Canada geese are big and aggressive and often hang out in large groups. We might enjoy looking up at their honking V-formations heading south in autumn, but stepping through goose poop is no fun. In this portrait, the goose is running off a rival at Kendall Lake. “You can usually anticipate a charge by noticing its head and neck going down almost level to the ground or water. That is a warning sign,” noted Roetzel. Tensions are especially high during spring courtship.

If you could photograph a favorite bird, consider what would make the character of the bird shine. Remember the animal comes first, not the photograph. Respect its wildness and follow each park’s rules of distance and approach. In general, don’t do anything that makes wildlife change its behavior because of your presence.
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    Photographer Jim Roetzel beside his camera and tripod.
    Photographer Jim Roetzel beside his camera and tripod.

    © Ron Skinner

    Meet Jim Roetzel

    “You have to be out in the wild almost every day to be good at this. Being outside matters most. The camera is just a way to share my walks with others.”

    Photographer and teacher Jim Roetzel has lived near Cuyahoga Valley his whole life. He notes that capturing Ohio’s subtle beauty can be difficult, but it’s a challenge he finds particularly rewarding. He has also photographed all over the United States and Canada, following nature’s rhythms, migrations, and seasons. His work regularly appears in nation publications including Audubon, Smithsonian, and National Parks. In addition, Roetzel and his co-authors have produced three books: Cuyahoga Valley National Park: A Photographic Portrait, Birds of North America, and Birds of New England.

    Roetzel is a long-time leader in the Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society, an activity of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He encourages you to attend their programs and consider becoming a member.

    Roetzel is a long-time leader in the Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society, an activity of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He encourages you to attend their programs and consider becoming a member.


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