Common loons Gavia immer are a conservation concern in New England due to a variety of anthropogenic factors, yet little is known about biotic and abiotic environmental factors determining their wintering distribution and abundance in nearshore and offshore waters. The primary objective of this study was to develop a spatially explicit abundance model of wintering common loons in the maritime waters of southern New England (USA) that could inform decisions about offshore development. Aerial line-transect surveys were conducted throughout a 3800 km(2) study area off the coast of Rhode Island during the winters of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. A density surface model (DSM) approach was used to account for imperfect detection and incorporate spatially explicit environmental covariates. Common loon densities were greatest in waters 2 mg m(-3)). The DSM predicted 5047 (95% CI = 3993-6379) common loons in the study area during winter, which suggests this region provides key habitat for this species in eastern North America. This study highlights important areas for common loons in the region, suggests key biotic (primary productivity as measured by long-term chl a surface concentrations) and abiotic covariates (water depth) driving the spatial distribution and abundance of common loons in southern New England, and identifies sites that should be considered for protection from offshore development, including offshore wind facilities.