Coronavirus concerns cancel the "Biggest Week in American Birding"

OAK HARBOR, Ohio (WTVG) - It's known as the "Biggest Week in American Birding," and this year it's being put on hold because of the coronavirus.

"In our brains we've known that this is what had to happen for a couple weeks, but our hearts just didn't want to let go," Black Swamp Bird Observatory executive director Kimberly Kaufman said.

The observatory puts on the big event, and Kaufman said her team decided to cancel the "biggest week" on Tuesday after growing concerns and restrictions due to COVID-19. Magee Marsh, one of the hot spots birders flock to, also closed the same day for the same reason.

"We finally crossed that threshold where we knew we could just no longer guarantee the quality of this event, so it was time to let it go," Kaufman said.

This year would have marked the 11th straight for the birding phenomenon that draws in 90,000 people from 52 countries and adds $40 million annual to the local economy.

"It has such an impact on a business community at a time when they really need it, [and] it's heartbreaking to hear people talk about how devastating this will be to the economy," Kaufman said.

Hotels like the Towne Place Suites off Navarre in Oregon expect to take a big hit because of the cancellation.

"It'll be devastating not only economically to our hotels, but also to our staffs where we won't need as much [of them]," Key Hotel and Property regional manager Mike Delaney said.

Delaney oversees 11 area hotels and said the coronavirus is already killing business, leaving rooms empty and forcing him to layoff 150 workers for now. Without the birding boost, he said things aren't expected to get better anytime soon.

"Hopefully this will pass in the next couple of weeks, and there'll be more travelers coming about," Delaney said.

Meanwhile at Magee Marsh, Kaufman said her team is already working hard planning next year's "Biggest Week in American Birding."

"With all the work that's been done for this year, we're just going to package that up, and we'll hit the ground running for 2021," Kaufman said.

If the situation surrounding the coronavirus clears up soon, Kaufman said she'll work to organize a smaller event still this year.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is also always looking for donations to keep its non-profit mission going. Click here if you'd like to donate.