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Alive in Salem Sound

BIRDS in the Sound

Birds use the Sound year round. In the winter, many species come from the North to feed on the abundant resources in the Sound, such as Common and Red-throated Loons, Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, Surf Scoters and more. In the winter, Snowy Owls and American Eagles often find what they need here. In the spring, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Cormorants, various gulls and the American Oystercatcher nest on the rocky islands in Salem Sound.


Oyster Catcher

American Oystercatchers are a recent arrival to Salem Sound.


Many waterfowl spend the winter in Salem Sound. Every December, Jan Smith joins SSCW to share his vast birding knowledge with people who want to learn about and be able to identify the waterfowl that use the Salem Sound waters in the winter. Here is a great reference to help you ID diving ducks from a distance: Ocean Bird Silhouettes Guide.

Winter Waterfowl Surveys

Salem Sound Coastwatch has been conducting winter waterfowl surveys from East Point Nahant to Magnolia in January each year since 2010. We follow the protocols used by TASL, a group of birders who have been collecting winter waterfowl data for the Boston Harbor regions since 1980. If you are interested in joining one of our teams, please contact us.


Data were compiled for the one morning surveys done in January from Manchester to Beverly, around the Danvers River estuary, Salem down to Marblehead, Swampscott, Lynn and the northern coast of Nahant. Results cover 1988 (Robert Buchsbaum) and then SSCW teams 2010 - 2017.
A summary of results can be found in Eyes on the Coast.



Common Loons are frequently seen in Salem Sound during our winter surveys.

LOONS in Massachuessets from the MassWildlife News - Nov. 2014

For years, MassWildlife has monitored loons nesting in the state. Observations during the summer of 2014 documented 39 loon pairs on 16 lakes and ponds. Out of the 23 chicks that hatched, 18 survived to fledgling. These fledglings will migrate to the coast to live in the ocean for the next few years, then will return to their natal areas and try to establish territories of their own.


Common Loons, listed as a Species of Special Concern under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, returned to nest in Massachusetts in 1975 after being absent as a breeding bird for almost a century. From 1975 to 1983 loon pair activity was only observed on the Quabbin Reservoir. In 1984, loon activity was also observed on the Wachusett Reservoir. By 1986, loon nesting activity began to spread to other water bodies in the state.


In addition to monitoring loon activity, MassWildlife has partnered with other agencies and organizations to improve nesting sites for loons. Common Loons cannot walk well and only come on land in spring to breed and build nests within a few feet of the shoreline. The fluctuating water levels of reservoirs can be a problem for loons. If water levels rise, nests and eggs flood and will not hatch. If water levels drop more than 6 to 12 inches, nests are abandoned because loons cannot walk to the nest. To reduce nest losses on reservoirs, rafts are constructed using cedar logs and foam with vegetation placed on top to resemble a small island. The raft is floated and anchored in loon territory. Because the raft floats, it protects the nest and eggs from being flooded or stranded. This past summer, loon rafts were deployed at the Wachusett and Quabbin Reservoirs and where loon pairs have been reported and on reservoirs operated by the Fitchburg and Pittsfield water departments.