Almost as much as we love our blue crabs, residents of the Maryland Chesapeake Bay watershed have a long-standing appreciation for our wildlife too. Motoring in and out of the marina often gives the best views of our feather-covered inhabitants atop the channel markers. Spotting these birds brings excitement to everyone on board.
So as the seasons change and we swap sunscreen for sweatshirts, the team at Atlantic Marinas has pulled together some interesting, fun facts on a few cold-weather birds that call Maryland home. We’d love to see photos you’ve snapped, so please share them with us in the comments.
- Ospreys – While ospreys can be found around the world (not technically native to Maryland), they are special to Maryland boaters in the spring as a sign to kick-off boating season. As fall gets underway, you might be surprised to still find Osprey “hanging around.” The females are the first to leave the area in August, whereas the males tend to leave in early September. Staying true to what their name implies, the juveniles hang around until mid-October doing some exploring and wing flexing to build their muscles before they head south to Mexico and Central America for the winter.
- Bald Eagles – As cold air moves in and the osprey leave the area, bald eagles from northern climates begin moving south into the bay which serves as their wintering ground. Did you know that the recovery of the bald eagle is considered one of the greatest conservation successes of the 20th century? From an all-time low of 44 nesting pairs in the state of Maryland in 1977, it is estimated that at least 1,400 pairs currently breed in Maryland. Today, the Chesapeake Bay region hosts the largest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Because the Chesapeake Bay is an estuary – a mix of fresh water from the rivers and saltwater from the ocean—it has a wide variety of fish species that make for a healthy, balanced bald eagle diet. Bald eagles can be spotted year-round in Maryland, but their numbers increase from August to May.
- Buffleheads – Aside from getting to integrate the word “bufflehead” into our vernacular again, we are excited to welcome back these attractive black and white (male colors) “diving ducks.” They hatch from eggs in the forests of northern Canada and migrate south to the bay once their ponds have frozen. It’s quite a long flight for these small but mighty birds. You will likely find them in shallow water along shorelines of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, diving to get the summer leftovers. As spring approaches, the Buffleheads will return to the far north to breed.
- Tundra Swan – The tundra swan is a large, white bird with a black bill who prefers the shallow bay waters in the winter when their Artic tundra is frozen. In autumn, adults and their young, called cygnets, fly south to the Chesapeake Bay region. Cygnets are as large as adults but are brownish-gray. They molt to white by late winter or early spring, when the swans return to the tundra to breed. (The tundra swan does not have the widely recognized orange bill, those are the mute swan which can be aggressive).
- Double-Crested Cormorant – These expert divers, which are gangly with a long tail and neck, eat almost exclusively fish, which they catch underwater with their hooked bill. They “swim” underwater for up to 90 seconds. In the breeding season, a double-crested cormorant’s throat turns bright orange. You mostly see these birds diving and swimming while you are boating, but here’s a fun fact: The double-crested cormorants don’t have waterproof feathers, so, after swimming, they dry themselves on land by spreading their wings.
Boating the Chesapeake Bay has so much to offer, and we are so appreciative of the beauty in our backyard. As a reminder, for safety reasons, always wear a life jacket when you’re out. Cooler water means more chances of hypothermia if you accidentally fall overboard. Your life jacket could save your life.
Osprey & Bird Migration: https://www.findyourchesapeake.com/trip-ideas/article/fall-bird-migration-on-the-chesapeake-bay
Bald Eagles: https://marylandbirds.org/bald-eagle-nest-monitoring
Double-crested cormorant: https://animalia.bio/double-crested-cormorant