Find Your Chesapeake: Winter Waterfowl

Attraction magazine has partnered with the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office and Chesapeake Conservancy to help readers find their next adventure. Each month we’ll feature a new place from their helpful website, There, you can also sign up for an e-newsletter, Trips and Tips, that delivers fresh ideas to your inbox each week.

Ready to try something new? At, also find expert advice on experiences like birdwatching, fishing, camping, and hiking. Their team also developed content to help people explore the Chesapeake virtually so folks can stay safe at home during the pandemic.

This month, the spotlight is on finding winter waterfowl. If you live on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, congratulations! You won’t have far to go to find world-class wintering waterfowl. With miles of marshes, undisturbed waters, and abundant foraging opportunities, the Eastern Shore is the region’s undisputed hot spot for wintering waterfowl.

Situated at the mouth of the Chester River in Kent County, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge has the distinction of being a Global IBA (Important Birding Area). According to the Audubon Society, “More than 2,000 swans, just over 1% of the global population of tundra swan, spend the early part of winter at the refuge, feeding on submerged vegetation and clams.” Some portion may continue on to North Carolina, but many remain, and, in combination with 7,000 Canada Geese, 11,600 Scaup, 3,600 Canvasback, 7,000 Ruddy Duck, 7,600 Mallard and 1,000 Black Duck, you are guaranteed some great birding this time of year at Eastern Neck NWR. Visitors can view wildlife from seven trails and boardwalks at the refuge, in addition to public refuge roads.

Upward of 2,000 Tundra Swans spend part of the winter at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Photograph courtesy of Kim Cover.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County is most famous among birders for having the highest density of nesting Bald Eagles on the Atlantic Coast north of Florida. These raptors can be seen throughout the year from the visitor center or along the four-mile paved wildlife drive. Blackwater is also known for huge flocks of wintering geese, Tundra Swan, and ducks (American Black, Northern Pintail, and Mallards). Also, during last year’s Mid-Winter Eagle Survey held at Blackwater, four Golden Eagles were spotted.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a winter favorite of Canada Geese. Photograph courtesy of Maryland DNR.

In Somerset County on the lower shore is Janes Island State Park (the mainland portion), which is also a great wintering waterfowl destination, with sea and bay ducks such as Scoters, Canvasback, Redhead, Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Mergansers being the most frequently sighted.

Mergansers are one of the most frequently sighted waterfowl at Janes Island State Park in Crisfield. Photograph courtesy of Mark Boyd, Maryland DNR.

With its wide diversity of habitats, including both extensive marshland and shoreline, the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center is another Eastern Shore waterfowl-viewing gem in Queen Anne’s County. In winter, a walk to the floating dock on the north side of the preserve provides good views of Marshy Creek, where there can be large rafts of ducks including Redheads, Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks, Tundra Swans, and an occasional Eurasian Wigeon.

So, bundle up and get out to enjoy one of the true benefits of winter on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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Allison Rogers


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