May 26, 2024

Cap’n Jack IDs Wintering Birds in the Chesapeake

birds wintering in the Chesapeake

Message From the Cap’n is a compilation of fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers.

Winter has arrived in the Chesapeake!

From the Interpretive Buoy System: Despite the fluctuations in the air temperature, the lower Potomac water temperature has kept on falling since the middle of December when it was 47 degrees Fahrenheit — below 45 as the year opens. The salinity is also falling into the low teens as the Chesapeake Bay heads into its coldest time of year with plenty of moisture in all forms: falling, freezing, and flowing.

While winter sends some of the Chesapeake Bay wildlife to warmer climes, the bay remains active throughout the season with many different ducks and birds wintering in the Chesapeake.

Some of the ducks that visit the lower Potomac and its tributaries in the fall and winter include:

Buffleheads, as the one pictured above, are locally called “dippers” and usually the first ducks to arrive as the weather cools. They fly like they’re in a playful mood.

Common Goldeneye

The Common Goldeneye, or “whistler,” is the smartest duck we try to hunt in Southern Maryland.

Lesser Scaup

The Scaup, or “black-head,” is usually a visitor after the hunting season goes out. Scaups gather in massive flocks.


Ruddy, also known as “iron-head,” gets its local name because it is hard to kill.

Common loon migrate through the Chesapeake Bay in the spring and are great fishers.

Bald eagles are in the Chesapeake year-round:

Bald eagles protect about a mile of shoreline or territory. They nest in the winter and have a varied diet. Here is a video of a bald eagle hunting a mallard for dinner.

The bald eagles are easier to spot in the fall and winter after the osprey have left to overwinter in South America and Central America. This seemingly influx of eagles is really because eagles and ospreys get along like the Hatfields and McCoys. The eagles tend to take a backstage during the ospreys’ nesting season, which runs from mid-March into September in the Chesapeake. But once the osprey have left, bald eagles often perch in vacated osprey nests and have been known to take nesting material from those nests and use it in their own nests.

Jelly Fish & Others bald eagle

Bald Eagle by Laura Hammett

An interesting scenario in St. Mary’s County, takes place on fields where a deer processor spreads ground carcasses. Eagles are early risers and are the first to locate the feast. They’re followed by the buzzards who come later in the morning. Just the sound of the grinder alerts the eagles, sometimes drawing as many as 30 eagles feasting early in the morning.

Till next time, remember “It’s Our Bay, Let’s Pass It On.” Stay warm! Have a Happy New Year.

Reach Cap’n Jack at [email protected]  or 240-434-1385.

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