Birds of New Bedford harbor

This page is outdated, and I only leave it online for sentimental reasons. Before you ask, any field notes from those days are long since destroyed.

From August, 2005, to September, 2008, including the following locales:
New Bedford’s inner harbor from Rte. I-195 south, including water, islands, wetlands, and block or so inland;
Outer harbor as visible from hurricane barrier and Fort Phoenix state park;
Downtown neighborhood bounded by Spring St., County St., and U.S. 6.;
Fort Phoenix State Park in Fairhaven;
Riverside Cemetery in Fairhaven, including wetlands and open land to the harbor and Acushnet River.

Relative abundance, based on my limited observations and estimates:

  • ab=abundant, 500-1,000 per day
  • vc=very common, 100-499 per day
  • com=common, 10-99 per day
  • unc=uncommon, 1-9 per day
  • rare, 1-10 per season
  • no indication given for apparent strays, or if insufficient data

The List

Common Loon (unc winter, unc spring)
Horned Grebe (unc winter, unc spring)
Double-crested Cormorant (summer, fall)
Snowy Egret (summer)
Mute Swan (unc winter)
Canada Goose (com fall, com winter)
Brant (com-vc winter, com spring)
Wood Duck (summer)
Mallard (com summer, fall, winter, spring)
American Black Duck (unc winter, unc spring)
Greater Scaup (com fall, com winter)
Common Eider (com winter, com spring)
Long-tailed Duck (com winter, com spring)
Common Goldeneye (com fall, com winter, unc spring)
Barrow’s Goldeneye (rare winter)
Bufflehead (com fall, com-vc winter, com spring)
Red-breasted Merganser (com winter, com spring)
Common Merganser (unc fall, unc winter, unc spring)
Osprey (fall)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (winter)
Cooper’s Hawk (winter)
Northern Goshawk (winter)
Peregrine Falcon (winter)
Red-tailed Hawk (fall)
Semipalmated Plover (summer)
American Oystercatcher (summer)
Peeps (Calidris spp.) (summer)
Ring-billed Gull (vc-ab summer, fall, winter, spring)
Great Black-backed Gull (com summer, fall, winter, spring) nesting colony
Herring Gull (ab summer, fall, winter, spring) nesting colony
Bonaparte’s Gull (com summer, fall)
Common Tern (summer)
Least Tern (summer)
Rock Pigeon (ab summer, fall, winter, spring)
Chimney Swift (spring, summer)
Belted Kingfisher (summer)
Northern Flicker (summer, unc winter)
Great Crested Flycatcher (spring)
Tree Swallow (summer)
Eastern Kingbird (spring)
Blue Jay (spring, summer)
American Crow (com summer, fall, winter, spring)
Black-capped Chickadee (spring, summer)
Carolina Wren (spring)
American Robin (com winter, spring, summer, fall)
Gray Catbird (spring, summer)
Northern Mockingbird (spring, summer, fall)
Brown Thrasher (spring)
European Starling (ab summer, fall, winter, spring)
American Goldfinch (winter)
Cedar Waxwing (winter)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (winter)
Rufous-sided Towhee (spring)
Chipping Sparrow (com spring, summer)
Lark Sparrow (winter)
Song Sparrow (com-vc fall, winter, spring)
White-throated Sparrow (winter, spring)
Dark-eyed Junco (summer, fall)
Northern Cardinal (com winter, spring)
Red-winged Blackbird (fall, spring)
Baltimore Oriole (spring)
Common Grackle (spring)
House Finch (winter, spring, summer)
House Sparrow (vc fall, winter)

Note: Unfortunately, May is one of my busiest months at work and so I have missed most of the spring migration the past two years.

Where to bird

New Bedford harbor is primarily a marine industrial landscape, interspersed with dense residential development on the Fairhaven side, and a mixed urban setting on the New Bedford side. There are two urban green spaces on the Fairhaven side: Fort Phoenix State Park, and Riverside Cemetery. The heavy human development means we see lots of Rock Pigeons, House Sparrows, and European Starlings. Major points of interest for birders include the Herring Gull nesting colony on the rooftops of downtown New Bedford, and wintering ducks and waterfowl on the waters of the harbor. New Bedford harbor is probably not worth a trip for those living elsewhere, but it can provide interest if you’re here anyway.

Summer: June 21 to September 20 — Summer is dominated by gulls, starlings, pigeons, and House Sparrows. Heavy recreational use by humans tends to keep birds away. Post-breeding dispersal and early fall migrants liven up late summer.

Fall: September 21 to December 20 — Beginning in October, ducks and other water birds beging to move into the area. By December, waterfowl have reached their highest concentrations, and the birding can sometimes be quite good.

Winter: December 21 to March 20 — Waterfowl continue on the harbor through March or April, with gradually decreasing numbers. Occasional raptors over the harbor. Early spring migrants may be seen at Fort Phoenix and Riverside Cemetery.

Spring: March 21 to June 20 — Spring migrants can be seen in Riverside Cemetery and at Fort Phoenix. Herring Gulls breed in late spring and early summer in the diffuse nesting colony on the roofs of downtown New Bedford (some nests visible from the roof of the Elm St. parking garage).

Best places to bird New Bedford harbor, roughly in order of interest:

  • Pope’s Island off Route 6, including the city park on south and the parking lot on north (best in winter; can see most of inner harbor). Also: Route 6 bridges across the harbor (from here, can see the parts of harbor not visible from Pope’s Island; seals in winter)
  • Fort Phoenix State Reservation including Fairhaven side of hurricane barrier (best in winter; good views of outer and inner harbor; small areas of wetlands and forests)
  • New Bedford side of hurricane barrier including Palmer Island (best in winter; can see much of inner harbor as well as outer harbor; Palmer’s Island sometimes shelters migrants)
  • Riverside Cemetery, 274 Main St., Fairhaven and Marsh Island (year-round; Marsh Is. had wetlands, view of entire upper harbor)
  • S end of Main St. in Fairhaven (this cove cannot be easily seen from other vantage points mentioned)
  • End of State Pier in New Bedford (easily accessible from downtown, can see much of the inner harbor, seals and waterfowl close by in winter)
  • Roof of Elm St. Parking Garage, downtown New Bedford (in June, watch Herring Gull nests on nearby rooftops)

3 thoughts on “Birds of New Bedford harbor

  1. Mary Anne McQuillan

    Have you looked north from the Coggeshall St brige over the Acushnet River next to Nye Lubricants? There are usually birds along the marsh on the Fairhaven side. Also, there is a small park in Acushnet along the upper part of the “remediated” river north of where the Wood St. bridge crosses from NB to Acushnet.
    Fair Winds,
    Mary Anne

  2. Claire

    Not sure if you can comment but I was at Gull Island yesterday and noticed some rather
    large black birds. I think they may be cormorants but it seems this is not the time of
    year for them, according to your notes here. I didn’t get a close look at them. Any ideas
    what they might be?

  3. Administrator

    Claire — Along the South Coast, you could see both Great Cormorants and Double-Crested Cormorants during the winter, according to the standard reference “Birds of Massachusetts” by Richard Veit and Wayne R. Petersen (Mass Audubon, 1993). Also, both cormorants have been reported within 25 miles of New Bedford during the last two Christmas Bird Counts. The only thing the list above indicates is that I have not seen either cormorant in the small area I keep track of — that doesn’t mean they’re not here, it just means that I haven’t seen them.

    Remember too that Gull Island is outside the area that I keep tabs on. And I would expect to see both cormorants along the coast during winter within a few miles of New Bedford harbor. Cormorants are pretty distinctive, so if you think you saw one, you probably did.

Leave a Reply