The Chesapeake Bay is home to a great variety of animal and plant life, providing food, water, cover, and nesting or nursery areas for more than 3,000 migratory and resident wildlife species.
Oysters, which purify the Bay by straining algae from water for food and whose reefs provide food and habitat for scores of marine animals and plants, are at just two percent of historic population. The Blue crab population is also well below historic levels.
Other Bay wildlife includes:
- Waterfowl and other birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway, such as tundra swans, Canada geese, and a variety of ducks
- Bald eagles, and the world’s largest population of osprey, more than 2,000 nesting pairs
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Reptiles and amphibians including the diamondback Terrapin, from which University of Maryland sports teams take their nickname, more than 40 types of snakes, and numerous varieties of frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts
- Marine species, including bluefish, weakfish, croaker, menhaden, flounder, and spot
- Land mammals: white-tailed and sika deer, bobcats, rabbits, muskrat, red fox, and otter
The Bay is also home to 14 species of underwater grasses, vital as habitat for aquatic animals, food, and producers of oxygen. Plants in the Bay’s tidal wetlands include:
- Smooth cordgrass, saltmeadow cordgrass, black needlerush, saltgrass, or marsh elder; plants along the water’s edge include wild rice, arrow arum, pickerel weed, and pond lily, cattail and big cordgrass
- Nontidal wetlands contain bulrush, broad-leaved cattail, jewel weed, spike rushes, and sedges. Forested wetlands are commonly home to trees such as red maple, black gum, river birch, black willow, Atlantic white cedar, and bald cypress. Willows, alders, and button bushes are types of shrubs present in forested wetlands.