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Mid Atlantic Tidal Marshes

Updated on February 26, 2011
Tidal marsh grasses
Tidal marsh grasses

Tidal marshes of North America's Mid-Atlantic region are critical habitats for an incredible range of wildlife.

Mid-Atlantic marshes are home to mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, invertebrates, insects, aquatic vegetation, and other life forms.

These vital environments extend from New York to the North Carolina, providing millions of acres of habitat for wildlife.

Tidal Marsh Mammals

The muskrat is native to North American marshes and wetlands. Muskrats can be dark brown, reddish or black in color. Adults reach lengths of about 24 inches, tail included.

The beaver is the largest rodent found in tidal marshes of the Mid Atlantic. An adult can weigh between 30-60 pounds and lengths of about 35 inches. American beavers inhabit the upper reaches of tidal estuaries, especially wooded swamps. With the abundance of water and trees, beavers do not necessarily build dams in tidal habitats.

Birds of Prey

Several species of raptors, also known as birds of prey, visit tidal environments. The most well known are bald eagles, ospreys and several species of hawks. Most species visit seasonally, taking advantage of abundant food sources.

Bald Eagles

Bald eagles are common in tidal marshes. Some eagles are year-round residents, while others visit seasonally.

During the fall, many species of fish migrate along tidal estuaries. As fish pass thru tidal creeks, bays and channels, they are shadowed by eagles searching for food.

Migrating eagles congregate near marshes during the winter months to feed. Winter food sources include carrion, fish, waterfowl, semi-aquatic mammals and other prey.

Bald eagles often patrol marshes of the Atlantic Flyway to hunt snow geese. In these sanctuaries, snow geese are found in great numbers. Although most geese are able to evade eagles, weaker birds sometimes become meals.

Fish kills in marsh environments often attract bald eagles. During the winter months, fish that are disabled by cold water temperatures can become easy prey for hungry eagles.

Again in the spring or summer, spawning fish attract bald eagles to marshes. During these events, a variety of fish species become forage for eagles.

During Spring and early Summer, muskrats, beavers, nutria, and other mammals reproduce. When young mammals begin to move openly in marshes, bald eagles often move in for an easy meal.


Like bald eagles, ospreys nest and raise their young in or near tidal marshes. These unique raptors feed almost exclusively on fish. They are famous for nesting atop navigational aids, building large structures of sticks and other debris.

Ospreys migrate to southern areas in winter, returning each Spring to claim their nesting territories.

tidal marsh ducks
tidal marsh ducks


Tidal marshes of the Mid Atlantic region are often teaming with waterfowl. Some species occupy tidal marshes year round, while others visit during seasonal migrations.

Most marshes and estuaries of the region are part of the Atlantic Flyway, one of the four major migration paths for North American waterfowl.

Saltwater Fish

Tidal marshes are often teaming with saltwater fish. Among the smallest are mummichogs, banded killifish, sheepshead minnows and other members of the killifish family. Other baitfish that live much of their lives in marsh environments include Atlantic silversides, bay anchovies, striped mullet and other species.

Several inshore and ocean going species visit tidal marshes, mud flats, grass beds and other estuary micro-systems. Several of these fish spawn nearby or juvenile fish migrate into marsh waterways seeking shelter and food.

Juvenile spot, croaker, striped bass, flounder, weakfish, spotted seatrout, drum fish, white perch, sand perch, eels, menhaden, river herring and bluefish are all commonly found in Mid Atlantic tidal marshes.

Some species return as adults, waiting in deeper water to feed on fish or crustaceans that stray away from the shallows. These specialized predators include red drum, summer flounder, southern flounder, striped bass, sharks, rays and others.

Crabs - Shrimp

Mid Atlantic marshes are home to a variety of crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans, including Atlantic blue crabs, fiddler crabs, grass shrimp and other species.

Submerged aquatic vegetation, marsh grasses, tide pools and other structures all provide sanctuaries for peeler crabs to molt.


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    • tebo profile image

      tebo 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting. Thanks