Birds of Wheaton Branch Ponds

An astonishing 169 bird species (as of June 2020) have been reported at the stormwater ponds just south of Dennis Avenue. These ponds are located along Wheaton Branch, a tributary of Sligo Creek. They were built in the mid-1990s to mitigate the stormwater runoff from downtown Wheaton (including half of Wheaton Plaza) and improve water quality and stream habitat below the ponds.

Despite the frequent mowing required by state regulators (because the berms or “risers” are classified as dams), the ponds have proven to be an irresistible magnet for a tremendous range of birds, from tiny Kinglets to Osprey and Bald Eagles. The total number of species places this site in the top 25 of 100 “hot spots” on the eBird list for all of Montgomery County.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds on a river birch tree at the Wheaton Branch ponds in spring 2020 (Stephen Davies photo) A pair of Eastern Bluebirds on a river birch tree at the Wheaton Branch ponds in spring 2020 (Stephen Davies photo)

A range of food sources and habitat niches accounts for the bird diversity seen here: fish large enough to interest Osprey and even Bald Eagles, smaller fish for Kingfishers and Herons, aquatic vegetation for Ducks and Geese, mud-flats for migrating Sandpipers, surrounding woodlands for Woodpeckers and perching birds, and a clear wide view of the sky to observe birds passing through.

Ideas for the Future

The habitat could be improved through less frequent moving along the shorelines (in the upstream portions that don’t risk flooding to downstream residential areas), installation of bird nesting boxes, and protection of the woodland along northeast border. The Natural History Committee at FOSC is working on the best way to pursue these 3 ideas.

View more photos of the Wheaton stormwater ponds

One of Sligo’s most prolific nature photographers, Stephen Davies, gave a slideshow/talk on the birds of the Wheaton Branch ponds in May 2020. Stephen’s slides show the tremendous diversity of birds at the ponds throughout the year. They are available for viewing through YouTube?/Vimeo? here.

The bar graphs for each species of birds observed at these ponds – and their seasonal abundance – can be seen below from the eBird “hotspot” page for these ponds:

Bird Species sighted at the Wheaton Branch Ponds 1990 - 2020

Above: Illustration of water flow at Wheaton Stormwater Ponds

Below: A birds eye view of Wheaton Stormwater Ponds