Birds of New Bedford Harbor

This page is aimed at other recreational birders.

From August, 2005, to March, 2009, 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

Gaviiformes
Common Loon (unc winter, unc spring)
Podicipediformes
Horned Grebe (unc winter, unc spring)
Pelecaniformes
Double-crested Cormorant (summer, fall)
Ciconiiformes
Snowy Egret (summer)
Anseriformes
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)
Falconiformes
Sharp-shinned Hawk (rare winter)
Peregrine Falcon (rare winter)
Charadriiformes
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)
Herring Gull (ab summer, fall, winter, spring)
Bonaparte’s Gull (com summer, fall)
Common Tern (summer)
Least Tern
Columbiformes
Rock Pigeon (ab summer, fall, winter, spring)
Apodiformes
Chimney Swift (spring, summer)
Coraciiformes
Belted Kingfisher (summer)
Piciformes
Northern Flicker (summer, unc winter)
Passeriformes
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)
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)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (winter)
Chipping Sparrow (com spring, summer)
Lark Sparrow (winter)
Song Sparrow (com-vc fall, winter, spring)
White-throated Sparrow (winter)
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 — The summer is dominated by gulls, starlings, pigeons, and House Sparrows. Heavy recreational use by humans keeps birds away from harbor and Fort Phoenix. Some early fall migrants may be seen at Riverside Cemetery.

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, 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; a scope here can reach much of the inner harbor). Also: Route 6 bridges across the harbor (from here, can see the parts of harbor not visible from Pope’s Island; good place to see 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; a scope here can reach much of the inner harbor south of Rte. 6, along with the outer harbor)
  • Riverside Cemetery, 274 Main St., Fairhaven (year-round; access to wetlands, possible to bushwhack for 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, a scope can cover a good bit of the inner harbor south of Rte. 6)
  • Roof of Elm St. Parking Garage, downtown New Bedford (in June, can see Herring Gull nests on nearby rooftops)

2 thoughts on “Birds of New Bedford Harbor

  1. karen

    Thank you! I”m writing a fictional story about the life of my children’s great great grandfather – a black whaler out of New Bedford. I needed to know what a few of the birds that would have likely been around New Bedford harbour at the time. Your site gave me the info I needed – it’s a great way to start off my morning of writing! Thank you.

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