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The Atlantic Flyway

Updated on September 27, 2014

The Atlantic Flyway and its Waterfowl

The Atlantic Flyway is one of four major bird migration routes in North America. The flyway generally follows the Atlantic Coast of North America and the Appalachian Mountains.

Each Fall, the skies along the Atlantic Flyway are filled with ducks, geese, brant, swans, hawks, eagles, and other migratory birds.

Waterfowl and other birds make several stops on the flyway to rest, feed and drink before continuing their southern migration.

Again in early spring, birds follow this path northward to their traditional nesting grounds.

Birdwatching Along the Atlantic Flyway

One of the best ways to enjoy the Atlantic Flyway is to visit Virginia during National Waterfowl Week. On Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge events allow visitors access to see wildlife. The star attraction are the snow geese, which arrive by the thousands just in time for the event.

The islands are popular summer vacation spots, but are year round attractions for bird watchers and nature lovers. Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge, Assateague National Seashore and Chincoteague Island are located within a few hours of Baltimore Maryland, Washington DC, and Hampton Roads Virginia.

For birdwatchers near Hampton Roads Virginia, the Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail offers birdwatching opportunities. The trail links locations such as First Landing State Park, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, False Cape State Park, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Birdwatching Collectibles

Waterfowl and birdwatching enthusiasts may want to check out North America online store. The resource offers a large collection of waterfowl art from which shoppers can choose to add their personal caption.

This online custom t-shirt design tool allows birdwatchers or birding clubs to choose a basic logo for a shirt or other product and then add custom text to create a personalized item to suit their exact needs.

In addition to untitled waterfowl art, the online store offers an extensive collection of sports and outdoor recreation logos.

Virginia - An Atlantic Flyway Stopover

Virginia is among the premier bird watching spots in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA. Virginia has a wide variety of environments and is visited by many species of birds.

Song birds

Virginia is home to large numbers of song birds. Along the coast, marshes, wildflowers, fields and areas of brush provide ideal nesting and feeding habitat. Other songbirds inhabit the tall pine forests there. Warblers, nut hatches, sparrows, red wing blackbirds and others nest near the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast in the summer, while cardinals, jays, woodpeckers and finches reside there during the winter months.

Shore Birds

Herons, egrets, ibises, oyster crackers, march hens and other shorebirds are frequently spotted along the marshes in places like Chincoteague, Assateague and the other barrier islands. On the beaches, dozens of species of sandpipers, plovers, gulls and terns feed, nest and raise chicks.

Birds of Prey

A number of birds of prey visit Virginia. Ospreys arrive in the spring to raise young and feed on the abundant fish stocks. As seasons change, some ospreys migrate south while other birds of prey arrive. American eagles, red tailed hawks and other large hunters are present in the fall thru spring. Other hawks such as sparrow hawks may be found year round.


Ducks, geese, brant and swans all make stops in Virginia. In the refuge, geese and swans take up residence year round. Other full time residents include black ducks, wood ducks and mallards which raise their young on the marshes of Chincoteague Island, Wallops Island and much of the Chesapeake. As autumn arrives, ducks and geese migrate into the refuges and surrounding areas of Virginia. Shoveler ducks, pintails, mallards, widgeons, teal, rudy ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, ring necked ducks, bluebills, and others fly in. Mergansers, buffleheads, goldeneyes and other diving ducks show up in the bay waters as cold weather sets in. Off the coast, rafts of sea ducks and small groups of oldsquaw ducks forage along the shoals over the winter.

Pelagic Birds

The waters off the coast are visited by up to 30 species of pelagic birds including albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, storm-petrels, phalaropes, skuas, jaegers, gannets, gulls, terns and alcids. These birds migrate along the offshore waters far from land. Many pass off the coast and never see Virginia's beaches.

Waterfowl of the Atlantic Flyway

The Atlantic flyway is known as a migration path for dozens of species of ducks, geese, waterfowl and shorebirds. The following list includes some of the more common waterfowl found along the flyway:

Mallard Duck

Black Duck

Green-winged Teal

American Widgeon



Greater Scaup


Ring-necked Duck

Ruddy Duck


Lesser Scaup


Lesser Snow Goose

Common Goldeneye

Common Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Red-breasted merganser

Old Squaw

Black Scoter

White-winged Scoter

Surf Scoter

Tundra Swan

Canada Goose

Greater Snow Goose

Atlantic Brant

The U.S. Geological Survey is responsible for the collection and processing of waterfowl banding information. Government and private sector scientists and waterfowl managers tag and monitor migratory waterfowl every year. Banding information helps biologists estimate waterfowl populations, track migrations, and perform other research. To report bird band information, go to

Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebird Migrations

Horseshoe crabs play a vital ecological role in the migration of shorebirds along the entire Atlantic seaboard. The crabs lay eggs which wash ashore by the millions, providing an important food stop for commercial migrating shore birds.

The Delaware Bay Estuary is the largest staging area for shorebirds in the Atlantic Flyway. An estimated 425,000 to one million migratory shorebirds converge on the Delaware Bay to feed and rebuild energy reserves prior to completing their northward migration.

Atlantic Flyway Midwinter Waterfowl Survey

Each winter, teams from The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies conduct aerial surveys of ducks, geese, and swans along the Atlantic coast.

Results from state surveys are eventually pooled together to provide biologists with an overall estimate of distribution and population size of waterfowl wintering in the Atlantic Flyway.

The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually throughout the United States since the early 1950s.

Birdwatching Poll

Where is your favorite place to see waterfowl?

See results
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atlantic flyway ducks

International Migratory Bird Day

An important event along the Atlantic Flyway is International Migratory Bird Day. Each year on this special day, America's bird migrations are celebrated.

Bird Day is held in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

International Migratory Bird Day officially takes place on the second Saturday in May in the U.S. and Canada. In Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, the event occurs in October.

Flyway Feedback

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    • annieangel1 profile image


      8 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      very nice lens

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The Tortoise Cat & I see migrating birds from Milwaukee, but we've never lived on the east coast -- it is great to learn of this flyway -- blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      8 years ago

      Lovely lens!

      I did feature it in Why I Won't Eat Goose for Christmas

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      8 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've never had the pleasure of birdwatching during migration on the Atlantic Flyway - I've only seen the Pacific. It would certainly be fun to watch.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I love to go down to the beach and just sit, expecially in the fall and winter. The birds are there but the people are not.

      Great lens


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Loved reading about Assateague Island- I took a trip to that area back in May of 2005. With camera in hand, I witnessed and photographed the elusive Piping Plover- a pair to boot! She was performing her egg-laying ritual- scoot, shimmy and shake the sand! Wow! I was ecstatic! I also saw the wild Mustang and horseshoe crabs on the beach- what a great day that was! Thanks for your article- five stars!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Excellent lens. Welcome to the Wildlife Photography Group

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      10 years ago from Covington, LA

      Good lens. Thanks for joining the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens links to the appropriate plexos and vote for them.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You bring your readers such great information! Thank you for joining my Nature Lovers group :)


      Diana's Photography

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      10 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Thank you for joining the South Carolina Group. Of course, my favorite place to see waterfowl is South Carolina.5*

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      11 years ago

      Great Lens! Bird watching is a great passtime. I love the birds!

      5 stars and Lensroll



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