The Wildlife of the Watershed

With the help of our outstanding stewardship interns last year, we started an exercise of compiling checklists of the wildlife reported in the watershed, for which there is a considerable amount of information available out there. We were able to determine the conservation status of the species, at least on a state level (for Maryland and DC) by using NatureServe's Conservation Status Ranks. We consulted several sources including the District of Columbia Wildlife Action Plan, the National Park Service, the Anacostia River Watershed Restoration Plan, the website of Friends of Sligo Creek, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and others. Additionally, we consulted some experts, but are still open for further feedback, so, if you know about the local wildlife and would like to see the checklists, just send an email to Jorge Bogantes Montero, AWS Conservation Biologist, at and he will be happy to share the lists with you.

A Great Egret (Ardea alba) at Bladensburg Waterfront Park

Why wildlife checklists? It is important to know what species remain in this heavily urban watershed so that we know how best to protect them and also to educate the public about their conservation. These are lists of species that are currently known to be present in the watershed, with a few reports of Possibly extirpated and Presumed extirpated (according to NatureServe's conservation status ranks). This will be a resource for people to get to know better the animal neighbors that visit their yards and neighborhood parks. Within AWS we will use this information for education, stewardship, communications and other purposes. Eventually we will make it a section of our website.

The Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) is the most common woodland salamander in our area.

The wildlife habitats of this watershed have been subjected to major disturbances and changes over the last couple of centuries. The remnant forest fragments and tidal emergent wetlands play a significant role in sustaining the urban wildlife besides all their benefits to improving water quality, air quality and our quality of life! Some of the best things we do at AWS for wildlife are the creation and restoration of habitat through wetland revegetation, riparian reforestation and other tree plantings, meadow creation, etc.

White-tailed deer, of course, are plentiful...

According to the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership it is estimated that 70% of the forest cover that once carpeted the Anacostia watershed has been lost to agriculture, sand and gravel extraction, and you guessed it, urbanization. Over the last half century or so, forest patches have been shrinking in size. Currently half of the remaining forest tracts in the watershed are of less than 12 acres. Even worse, nearly 60% of the streams on the Maryland portion of the watershed lack an adequate forest buffer of at least 100 feet on each side. Of course the story hasn't been any better for the wetlands of the watershed, of which 6,500 acres (tidal and nontidal) have been destroyed. Tidal emergent wetlands have paid the highest toll since there's only 120 acres remaining, most of them created wetlands.

The White perch (Morone americana) is a native anadromous fish present throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Anacostia Wildlife Facts

The lists include native and nonnative species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. In general, nonnative species are a small fraction of all the species reported in the watershed. Fish have the highest proportion of nonnatives (18%) and herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) the least with just one nonnative species reported (the Red-eared slider). The Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) seem to be the only invasive species reported for all the groups. Given the urban and suburban conditions of the watershed, it is not surprising that most of the species reported in the region are rather common and widespread in the Mid-Atlantic region and are apparently secure to secure regarding their conservation status. On the other hand, birds have the greatest number of threatened species with a total of 50 species under the categories of vulnerable, imperiled and critically imperiled in DC. Some examples are the Blackburnian warbler (Dendroica fusca), Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla), and other species. It is important to note that these conservation status are for Maryland and the District of Columbia and are not specific to the populations present in the Anacostia watershed, which could be at an even greater risk! Here are some numbers of species by taxonomic group:

  • Birds: 172 (including 4 nonnatives)
  • Fish: 61 (including 11 nonnatives)
  • Amphibians and reptiles: 61 (including 1 nonnative)
  • Mammals: 35 (including 2 nonnatives)

Here are a couple of graphs showing the conservation status (using NatureServe's ranking system) for Maryland and DC:

The acronyms for the conservation status ranks are the following:

SX: Presumed Extirpated
SH: Possibly Extirpated
S1: Critically Imperiled
S2: Imperiled
S3: Vulnerable
S4: Apparentley Secure
S5: Secure
SNR: Not Ranked/ Under Review
SNA: Status not assesed/ not applicable

For more information on NatureServe conservation status ranks click here.

When you get out in the Anacostia outdoors, enjoy the local wildlife and support its conservation, volunteer with us and help us improve wildlife habitat in the watershed!


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