At a Glance
Hours: Always open.
Cost: Walk-in access to the Inlet and Sunset Park bird viewing areas is always free, and parking is free from November 1 – March 31. A parking fee is charged April 1 through October 31. The first 30 minutes are free, and then the parking fee applies. There is still free parking Monday through Thursday from April 1 through May 21 and again October 1 through October 31. From May 22 through September 30, the parking fee is in effect every day of the week.
Tips: A spotting scope is essential. ◾ Be careful if walking on the jetty rocks; they are slippery. ◾ Dress more warmly than you think you need during winter. ◾ Public restrooms are available near the Boardwalk, year-round. There are also public restrooms at Sunset Park but they are usually open only during special events at the park.
Best Seasons: A year-round location, but best birding is from fall through early spring when the tourist season is over and parking fees are not in effect. It’s often worth visiting shortly after passage of a tropical storm to search for rarities.
Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Ocean City CW
Ocean City Inlet & Sunset Park
Inlet: 809 South Atlantic Avenue, Ocean City, MD 21842
Sunset Park: 700 South Philadelphia Avenue, Ocean City, MD 21842
Ocean City Parks Department: 410-250-0125
No Maryland winter birding season is complete without a trip to the Ocean City. The neighborhood of the Ocean City Inlet is the best place in Maryland to observe wintering seabirds.
The Ocean City Inlet is located at the south end of the resort town of Ocean City in Worcester County, and is a channel where water flows into and out of the Sinepuxent Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The Inlet was formed during a massive storm in August of 1933; prior to that time, the fledgling town of Ocean City was connected by land to what is now Assateague Island. Now, the Inlet separates Ocean City on the north side of the Inlet from Assateague Island on the south side. The Inlet is bounded by rock jetties on both the north and south sides.
Birding the Inlet is done from the north side of the water channel, where Ocean City maintains a large public parking area (the Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Area) adjacent to the Inlet and Atlantic Ocean. Parking is free in the winter but see the parking section below for information about parking fees at other times of year. The Inlet can be viewed from a wooden boardwalk that runs almost the whole length of the Inlet, from the rock jetty at the ocean to the seawall near the Oceanic Motel at the corner of Baltimore Avenue and South 1st Street. Getting to the boardwalk requires crossing the entrance road to the parking lot – be careful and watch for traffic. Good viewing can be found anywhere along the jetty or boardwalk, as well as along the ocean-side beach. Be sure to walk the length of the Inlet and check the Sinepuxent Bay and a little cove behind the Oceanic Motel for loons and ducks. Also remember to take a good look through a scope at the entire length of the South Jetty on the other side of the Inlet. Harlequin Ducks, scoters, and eiders like to hang out close to or on the rocks of the South Jetty.
Also check the water at the rip line (where waves form at the mouth of the Inlet) for loons and diving sea ducks and in the air above the rip line for gulls and terns. Alcids are rare at the Inelt, but when they do turn up, they may be at the rip line or slightly beyond. Remember to scope the sand dunes visible across the Inlet on the north end of Assateague Island – it may be possible to spot a wintering Snowy Owl hunkered down in the dunes.
In summer, if you are braving the vacationing crowds, use your scope to carefully check the Assateague Island sand dunes for possible Piping Plovers, which nest there in small numbers. Look for other shorebirds as well. And, don’t forget to look down past your feet at the rocks of the North Jetty – there are often close-up shorebirds lurking there. Birders who frequent the Inlet know that there can be an ever-changing cast of characters during the day, so be sure to check at different times of day, or make yourself comfortable and stay all day.
Sunset Park is a newish city-owned pocket park right around the corner from the Inlet, fronting on the Sinepuxent Bay. This tiny park, about 0.7 acres, is a long narrow strip sandwiched between a US Coast Guard Station and a commercial property. Most of Sunset Park is paved or boardwalked, but there are some tiny beds of native plants, and there is a platform providing a good view of a sandy beach (underwater at high tide) and the water of Sinepuxent Bay. Here you can get close views of loons, diving ducks, and maybe Brant. Amazingly, this little park has now surpassed the Inlet in terms of number of bird species reported on eBird (225 species vs. 207 species as of Fall 2020), primarily because the little beds of native vegetation at Sunset Park manage to attract migrant and wintering passerines, which are usually absent from the Inlet.
You can stop at Sunset Park on your way to or from the Inlet, using the public parking lots across the street, or you can simply walk to Sunset Park from the Inlet – it’s a ¼ mile walk, one-way. Birding Sunset Park is simple: just walk up the steps from the street level and walk the length of the park to the viewing platform at the water’s edge, being sure to carefully examine the native shrubs and grasses for songbirds. You’re not likely to get a long list of birds on any one visit to Sunset Park, but you have a good chance to add some species to your list from the Inlet.
More than 205 species have been reported on eBird from the Ocean City Inlet. Winter regulars include Common and Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Double-crested and maybe a Great Cormorant, Brant, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, all three scoters, Northern Gannet, and Bonaparte’s, Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed Gulls. On the jetties: Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, perhaps another shorebird or two. Prized winter rarities include Harlequin Duck, King and Common Eider, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Little, Black-headed, Glaucous, and Iceland gulls, along with alcids including murres, Razorbill and Dovekie. Occasionally a jaeger (winter), shearwater (summer), or storm-petrel (summer) may come into view. This is the only place in Maryland to have a good chance of seeing this assemblage of birds.
The eBird hotspot for Sunset Park lists 225 species as of Fall 2020. You can expect many of the waterfowl and gulls that you will see at the Inlet, but not the true pelagics such as Northern Gannet or alcids. As mentioned above, the small beds of vegetation at Sunset Park attract migrating and wintering songbirds, and these species usually do not turn up at the Inlet. The songbird list for Sunset Park is a long one, from flycatchers to tanagers and buntings and everything in between. Sparrows and warblers are especially likely to turn up here.
The boardwalk along the jetty at the Ocean City Inlet is wheelchair-accessible and allows good barrier-free viewing. It is also possible to bird from the car at the parking lot. Sunset Park is also wheelchair accessible.
Pets are permitted on leash at both the Ocean City Inlet and Sunset Park. Be prepared to pick up after your pet.
Worcester County has produced a printed bird checklist for the county. This PDF checklist is formatted to display well on smartphones. ◾ The Ocean City Inlet is contained within the much larger Assateague Island Important Bird Area and the adjoining Maryland Coastal Bays Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society. ◾ With the nearby Boardwalk and lots of restaurants in town, this is a great location for families with children. ◾ Be aware that some restaurants close for the winter or have limited winter hours, but even in the winter there is a good selection of places to eat, making Ocean City a good spot for a family or group get-away. ◾ The Tri-county Bird Club is the local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, serving Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset Counties; the club offers field trips to local birding areas and meeting with informative presentations.
- Episode 2902 of Outdoors Maryland from Maryland Public Television includes a segment titled “A Tern of Fortune,” about MD DNR’s program to create and protect nesting habitat for terns and Black Skimmers on sandy islands in the bay behind Ocean City. Other segments in this episode are “A Twist of Fate,” about the Maryland Hunt Cup, Maryland’s classic countryside horse race, and “Crewing a Classic,” about the Eastern Shore tradition of racing the classic Chesapeake work boat known as the Smith Island Skiff.
- Worcester County Tourism has a brief YouTube video showing the birding possibilities at Sunset Park, hosted by Jim Rapp from Conservation Community Consulting.
- Another brief YouTube video produced for Worcester County Tourism again features Jim Rapp showing some of the birds to be found at the Ocean City Inlet in winter.
For the Inlet, parking is at the paved Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Area. Parking is free from November 1 – March 31. A parking fee is charged April 1 through October 31. The first 30 minutes are free, and then the parking fee applies. There is still free parking Monday through Thursday from April 1 through May 21 and again from October 1 through October 31. From May 22 through September 30, the parking fee is in effect every day of the week. See https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/public-works/inlet-parking-lot/ for details and updates.
For Sunset Park, there is parking across the street in a couple of city-owned lots. The same fees apply as at the Inlet. These city parking lots serve the adjoining Ocean City Boardwalk, very popular throughout the year.
From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or points north on the Eastern Shore: Follow US Route 50 south and east toward Ocean City. Cross the bridge that carries US Route 50 over the Sinepuxent Bay to enter the Town of Ocean City. Upon entering the city, turn right to head south on Philadelphia Avenue. Sunset Park will be on your right at 700 South Philadelphia Avenue, right next door to the US Coast Guard Station. Public parking lots are on the left side of Philadelphia Avenue. You either stop and park for a quick visit to Sunset Park, or plan to walk back to the park from the Inlet. To reach the Inlet, continue south on Philadelphia Avenue past Sunset Park to the Oceanic Motel, where the street makes a sharp left and becomes South 1st Street. Stay on South 1st for one block, then turn right to go south on South Baltimore Avenue, which in one block turns left at South 2nd Street, adjacent to the North Jetty of the Inlet. Proceed to the east on South 2nd Street. The Inlet will be on your right and the Atlantic Ocean straight ahead. Park in the large lot on your left. If visiting from April 1 though October 31st, be sure to pay the parking fee at a pay station before birding; see instructions and rates at https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/public-works/inlet-parking-lot/.
If approaching from points west or south on the Eastern Shore: Use US Route 13, US Route 113, or MD Route 611 (depending on your point of origin) to reach US Route 50; then take US Route 50 east to Ocean City and follow directions as above.
Worcester County: Assateague Island National Seashore & Assateague Island State Park ◾ Castaways RV Resort & Campgrounds ◾ E.A. Vaughn Wildlife Management Area ◾ Pocomoke State Forest – Hickory Point Cypress Swamp Natural Area ◾ Truitts Landing & Other Bayside Landings ◾ West Ocean City Pond
Wicomico County: Cedar Hill Marina & Park ◾ Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area ◾ Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area – Nutter’s Neck ◾ Pemberton Historical Park ◾ Roaring Point & Nanticoke Harbor ◾ Tyaskin Park & Wetipquin Park ◾ Ward Museum & Schumaker Pond
Features:BeginnersBoardwalkFishingFree - No Entry Fee on Some Days or Parts of YearNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsSwimmingWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:Atlantic Ocean and Intercoastal WaterwaysAudubon Important Bird AreasCommunity and Urban Parks