Addition to Mispillion Wildlife Area Provides Shorebird Habitat


The DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife recently partnered with the Delmarva Ornithological Society and a federal matching grant program to purchase a 52-acre marshland property adjoining the existing 239-acre Mispillion Harbor Reserve and the 5,459-acre Milford Neck State Wildlife Area, both along the Delaware Bay near Milford.

 “The Mispillion Harbor area is globally known for its vital role each spring as habitat for spawning horseshoe crabs and as a stopover for migrating shorebirds that depend on horseshoe crab eggs to help fuel their 9,000-mile journey,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “Purchasing this property to expand and protect this important habitat is a great example of what we can accomplish by working together in public-private partnership.”

 Shorebirds drawn to the rich feeding grounds in and around Mispillion Harbor include the red knot, designated a species of greatest conservation need in Delaware and under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a possible candidate for federal endangered listing.

 “One of the limiting factors for red knots stopping to refuel in Mispillion Harbor may be that there is no suitable habitat for roosting overnight in the area. Our monitoring program shows that instead of roosting locally, our visiting red knots are using some of their vital migratory fuel reserves by flying across the Bay to New Jersey to roost in the evening,” said Wildlife Biologist Rob Hossler. “We’re going to try to create suitable roosting habitat, as well as restore other wetland habitats and functions on this site. This work will be designed to benefit the red knot and our other migratory shorebirds.”

 The Division is in the design and planning phase of restoration work that will include restoring mudflats and shallow pools, diversifying habitat, controlling invasive phragmites and plugging old mosquito control grid ditches dug in the early 20th century. 

 To cover the purchase price of $130,000 plus settlement costs, the Division has provided approximately $100,000 in federal funds from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, State Wildlife Grant Program. Additional funding will be used to cover the restoration work.

The remaining $30,000 to purchase the property has been provided by the Delmarva Ornithological Society, funds DOS raised through their 2009 Delaware Bird-A-Thon to permanently protect shorebird habitat.

 The annual DOS Delaware Bird-A-Thon was started by DOS in 2007 for the express purpose of raising funds for migratory shorebird habitat acquisition. During one week in May, Delaware birders of all ages gather pledges from sponsors ranging from individuals and families to school groups, businesses and corporations all over the country as well as in Delaware. Participating birders then choose a 24-hour period, head out to their favorite birdwatching areas in Delaware and collect pledges for the number of species they record seeing.

Bird-A-Thon founder and DOS Conservation Chair Bill Stewart noted the unique partnership involved in the Mispillion purchase. “Having the general public and businesses join together to raise funds for the united cause of habitat protection, and then to have the ability to parlay those efforts and funds into this important purchase by joining with the State is tremendously rewarding. Working with DNREC and acquiring 52 acres of crucial migratory shorebird habitat is a highlight of the four years of the Bird-A-Thon,” Stewart said.

 So far, since its inception the Delaware Bird-A-Thon has raised more than $130,000, and from 2007 to 2009 has purchased or helped to purchase 69 acres for habitat conservation. The 2011 Delaware Bird-A-Thon will be held May 7-15. For more information on the Delaware Bird-A-Thon and other DOS events, visit

 To learn more about shorebirds in Delaware, visit DNREC’s website: and

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