Winter in the Chesapeake Bay

While some species leave the Chesapeake Bay when colder weather settles in, others thrive in the freezing temperatures!

Published January 22, 2019

Winter weather can pose a variety of challenges to the thousands of species that call the Inner Harbor and larger Chesapeake Bay ecosystem home. In addition to the freezing temperatures, snow and ice, there’s often a lack of —or complete absence of— food sources for many animals.

Striped bass

To survive, many species avoid these challenges by migrating to warmer waters. For example, one the Bay’s signature species, the cownose ray, migrates from the Chesapeake Bay to warm waters off the coast of eastern Florida every winter. Large striped bass also migrate out of the region to deeper waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

However, there are some brave species that remain in the region during the winter months. One of the Inner Harbor’s signature species, the lion’s mane jelly, earns its nickname “winter jelly” from its presence in the harbor during the winter months. These jellies are abundant in our local waters from November to May, but once water temperatures warm, their life cycle comes to an end and they are replaced by Atlantic bay nettles.

Lion's mane jellies

Many aquatic bird species are spotted around the freezing waters of the Inner Harbor in the winter months, including geese, ducks and seagulls. Other birds, including tundra swans, canvasback ducks, mergansers and northern shovelers, migrate to our region from the Arctic and can only be seen here during the winter months. These Arctic birds are able to thrive in and out of the cold water in our region.

Like humans, winter birds are warm blooded, but they have a circulatory system that can keep them warm in cold temperatures. To brave the winter weather, they also fluff up their feathers! Feathers trap pockets of air close to the bird’s body—a form of insulation.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Chesapeake Bay’s native species!

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