Habitats Living Resources Use and Need

Many of the Chesapeake Bay's living resources depend on wetlands for their survival. Large flocks of migratory ducks, geese and swans spend winters using the marshes for feeding and cover. Other wildlife, including muskrats, beaver, otter, ospreys, and various wading, marsh and songbirds rely year-round on wetland habitat. Thousands of smaller animals, including aquatic insects, snails, mussels, tiny crustaceans and other important members of the food web thrive in wetland communities.

What the Service is doing to protect and restore vital habitat:

In 2009, Service offices in the watershed:

  • Restored/enhanced 10,581 acres of wetlands,
  • Managed/protected more than 6,400 acres of wetlands,
  • Managed/protected more than 5,600 acres of uplands,
  • Assessed more than 150,000 acres of habitat,
  • Prepared restoration plans for 4,843 acres of habitat.

Habitats of the Chesapeake Bay


Wetlands are semi-aquatic lands, flooded or saturated by water for varying periods of time during the growing season. Because of the presence of water, wetlands are characterized by water-loving plants, called hydrophytes, and their periodically saturated or flooded soil, known as hydric soil. Wetlands include bogs, swamps and marshes, and shallow water areas of rivers, lakes and ponds. Two major groups of wetlands found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are estuarine and palustrine. Estuarine wetlands are tidally flooded and range in salinity from fresh to salt water. Estuarine wetlands are the marshes found mainly along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and tidal portions of rivers. Palustrine wetlands are freshwater bogs, marshes and swamps bordering streams and rivers, filling isolated depressions and fringing lakes and ponds.


Lands along, adjacent to, or contiguous with perennially and intermittently flowing rivers and streams are typically riparian habitats. They can be thought of as the land that forms the transitions between permanently saturated wetlands and uplands.


Uplands are land areas that are not inundated or saturated by surface or ground water; they support vegetation dependent on aerobic soil conditions. Forested uplands, for example, are nesting and resting habitat for neotropical migratory birds, as well as habitat for year-round Chesapeake Bay inhabitants such as owls, towhees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, bobwhites and woodcocks. Migratory bird visitors to uplands in warmer months include warblers, vireos, orioles and flycatchers.

Open Water

The open water of the Chesapeake Bay supports striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, American shad, blueback herring, alewife, bay anchovy and Atlantic menhaden. Commercially valuable shellfish, like oysters and clams, live along the bay's bottom. Shallow water areas support submerged aquatic vegetation, the underwater plants that provide food and cover for waterfowl, blue crabs and juvenile fish.


The Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries provide spawning grounds for anadromous fish species like striped bass, blueback herring, alewife, American shad, hickory shad and Atlantic sturgeon.