Ocean City Inlet
809 South Atlantic Avenue, Ocean City, MD 21842
No Maryland winter birding season is complete without a trip to the Ocean City Inlet. The Inlet is the best place in Maryland to observe wintering seabirds. The 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, where the 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 boardwalk, as well as along the ocean-side beach. Be sure 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 diving sea ducks and in the air above the rip line for gulls and terns. 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, check the Assateague Island sand dunes carefully 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.
More than 200 species have been reported on eBird from the Ocean City Inlet area. 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. 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 see this assemblage of birds.
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.
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. ◾ 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. ◾ 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.
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, and follow it to the Oceanic Motel, where the street curves 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 at South 2nd Street, adjacent to the North Jetty of the Inlet. Turn left to go 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.
Assateague National Seashore and Assateague State Park, Castaways RV Resort & Campgrounds, E.A. Vaughn WMA, Pocomoke State Forest – Hickory Point Cypress Swamp Natural Area, Truitts Landing and Other Bayside Landings, West Ocean City Pond, Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area, Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area – Nutter’s Neck, Pemberton Historical Park
Urban or Small Town Landscape Sandy Beach or Dunes Jetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or Estuary
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)BoardwalkObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsSwimmingWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Atlantic Ocean and Intercoastal WaterwaysAudubon Important Bird AreasCommunity and Urban ParksDriving Tours (Birding By Car)