Delaware Birding Trail

Delaware Bay Coast Region

Delaware's wildest region is the vast salt marsh bordering Delaware Bay. Birding and wildlife viewing are outstanding here throughout the year, with the spring horseshoe crab/shorebird spectacle and fall waterfowl concentrations being special highlights. The Coastal Zone of Delaware has been recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area.

Woodland Beach Wildlife Area

5 miles east of Smyrna
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife

Taylor's Gut and nearby Florio Road, both part of Woodland Beach Wildlife Area, lie along Route 9, about 5 miles north of the entrance to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. From late October through mid-March, you may find the area teeming with Snow Geese and other waterfowl. Shorebirding is excellent when water levels are favorable.

Directions to Florio Road:
Take Route 9 (Hay Point Landing Road) north from its intersection with Route 6 (Woodland Beach Road), east of Smyrna. In 0.9 mile, turn right (E) onto Florio Road, just before Route 9 makes a sharp bend to the left (E). This road goes about 0.5 mile, and overlooks several ponds and fields. The road itself is unmarked, but there is a large sign reading, "Woodland Beach Wildlife Area."

Directions to Taylor's Gut:
A good spot from which to scan Taylor's Gut is along the shoulder of Route 9 near a small culvert, 1.2 miles north of Route 6 (0.3 mile from the entrance to Florio Road).

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

7 miles southeast of Smyrna
Managed by: United States Fish & Wildlife Service
Web site:

Unquestionably Delaware's single best-known birding site, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge justifies its fame with exceptional bird and wildlife viewing throughout the year. The experience is centered around an Auto Tour loop road that traverses a cornucopia of habitats, including fresh and salt marshes, ponds, mudflats, woodlands, and fields. You should plan an absolute minimum of two hours for a visit here; four is much better, and you could easily make multiple trips over several days before really getting a feel for the varying diurnal and tidal rhythms.

Open fields and plantings attractive to native wildlife surround the Visitor Center. Pick up (or download) a copy of the Auto Tour pamphlet, which includes a detailed map, and much useful information. The numbers in the following paragraphs refer to the tour stops in the brochure.

The best birding at Raymond Pool is usually to be found along the long, straight stretch of dike road (Tour Stop #3) that borders the northeast edge of the pool, beginning about 1 mile from the visitor center. Note that along Raymond Pool, as in most of the refuge, the dike road divides the freshwater impoundment from tidal saltmarsh.

Raymond Pool is the single most reliable spot in Delaware to find American Avocets and is often loaded with other shorebirds and waterfowl in season. Lighting here is most favorable in the morning. The number of shorebirds can vary dramatically over the course of the day so a revisit four to six hours later may yield different species and numbers.

Other noteworthy areas around Raymond Pool include the observation tower, a short walk from the first parking area on the left (N) side of the road, and the boardwalk trail, which enters the woods on the right (S) side of the road, just a few hundred yards beyond the tower parking lot. The woods at the beginning of the boardwalk trail can be particularly good for migrant songbirds. The boardwalk trail itself is a great place to see breeding Marsh Wrens and Seaside Sparrows and to listen for rails. Both of these spots are reached on the one-way portion of the Auto Tour before Tour Stop #3.

Shearness Pool hosts a great variety of waterbirds, as does the open area of salt marsh to its east, called Leatherberry Flats (Tour Stop #5). The Snow Goose spectacle here from late October into midwinter is often stunning and Bald Eagles are frequently seen here at all seasons. Leatherberry Flats can appear as a huge brackish pool, or as a vast mudflat, depending on wind and tide.

Bear Swamp Pool, which hasn't had bears for a very long time, does tend to have lots of birds. Traditionally productive areas include the SE (Tour Stop #7) and NE corners of the large impoundment, where shorebirds, ducks, and waders are often numerous. Finis Pool (Tour Stop #13) presents a very different face of Bombay Hook—a smaller, freshwater pond with a luxuriant growth of aquatic plants, surrounded by tall deciduous woods.

Directions to the Visitor Center:
From Route 1 near Smyrna, take exit 114 (Smyrna-South exit). At the end of the ramp turn right (N) at the traffic light onto Route 13 North. Turn right (E) at the next light onto Road 12 (Smyrna-Leipsic Road). This road merges with Route 9 South in just under 5 miles. Immediately after joining Route 9, turn left (E) onto Whitehall Neck Road which ends in 2.5 miles at the refuge headquarters area.

Directions for the Auto Tour (mileages are from visitor center):
From the visitor center, turn left (E) out of the parking lot. At the "T" intersection (0.1 mile), follow the tour loop to the right around Raymond Pool, passing the observation tower and the boardwalk trail before paralleling the pool's edge. The road then makes a "T," (1.6 miles). A left here will return you to the visitor center; a right parallels the northeast face of at the eastern extent of Shearness Pool (1.7 - 3.0 miles). Beyond Shearness, turn right (E) to circle Bear Swamp Pool (3.3 - 5.4 miles). At 5.4 miles, the Bear Swamp Loop rejoins the road from Shearness. Turn right (W), then left (S) at 5.5 miles, to reach Finis Pool (6.4 miles). A direct return from Finis to the visitor center takes another 3.6 miles, for a total circuit of about 9 miles.

Little Creek Wildlife Area

5 miles east of Dover
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife

Port Mahon Road is one of Delaware's classic birding hot spots. It is a good location from which to observe the horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird migration in late May, and is also famous for rails, marsh sparrows, and winter raptors. It is probably the most consistent place in the state for viewing Short-eared Owls (mid-November through February, during the hour or so around sunrise and sunset). Try the area just past the tank farm, or climb the steps to the fishing pier and scan back over the marsh.

The brushy fields and hedgerows near the headquarters of Little Creek Wildlife Area, 1.6 miles south of the Port Mahon Road turnoff, are a good place to check for sparrows and other seasonal landbirds. East of there, the low woods around the observation tower can be excellent for migrants. The impoundment visible from the tower can be swarming with birds, or almost devoid of them, depending on water levels.

Directions for Port Mahon Road:
From the intersection of Routes 8 & 9 just north of the town of Little Creek, go south on 9. After 0.3 mile, turn left (E) on Port Mahon Road. In one mile, there are several large fuel tanks (the tank farm) to the north. Continuing on the main road past the tanks, there is a productive stretch of marsh to the left (N). About 1.25 miles past the tank farm, you will arrive at the bay shore. The next 1.5 miles offer good birding along the shore, and the wooden fishing pier allows birders to overlook a vast expanse of marsh.

Directions to headquarters & the observation tower:
From the intersection of Route 9 & Port Mahon Road, go 1.6 miles south on 9. Turn left (E) at the Little Creek Wildlife Area sign. Turn left (N) just past the headquarters area and follow the road as it winds its way to a small parking area (about 1.25 miles from Route 9), where a short boardwalk trail leads to the observation tower.

Ted Harvey Conservation Area - Logan Lane Tract

7.5 miles southeast of Dover
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife

The Logan Lane Tract is dependably productive for a fine variety of marsh and bayside birds and may produce less common species like American Avocet, Black Skimmer and Gull-billed Tern. North America's first Whiskered Tern spent several weeks here in 1993. There are three principal areas birders cover at the Logan Lane Tract: the north impoundment and the bayshore, both reached by the northern access road, and the south impoundment. Note that birding access to this area may at times be restricted during hunting seasons.

Directions to the Logan Lane Tract:
From the intersection of Route 9 & US 113, just south of Dover, take Road 68 (Kitts Hummock Road) to the east. Turn right (S) at the sign reading, "Ted Harvey Conservation Area - Logan Lane Tract" on the right (S) side of the road, just under 2 miles from Routes 9 & 113.

For the north impoundment, take the first left (E), 0.4 mile after leaving Road 68, just before the house on the right. Continue 0.6 mile farther, then turn left (NE), arriving at the impoundment shore in 0.4 mile. For the bayshore, instead of turning left for the north impoundment, continue about 0.5 mile to the small parking area.

From there, walk the quarter mile east towards the bay, birding the marsh and mudflats along the way. At the bay, you may also wish to turn right (S) and walk down the beach, scanning the bay, the shoreline, and the eastern edge of the south impoundment, visible across the dunes to the west.

To reach the road access point for the south impoundment: Return to the main entrance road, turn left (S) and go past the house, then make a left (E), 0.5 mile past the house. Another 1 mile brings you to the impoundment.

Milford Neck

7 miles northeast of Milford
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife

Milford Neck is arguably Delaware's least-known great birding area. An excellent place to start exploring it is Big Stone Beach Road, specifically the two and a half mile stretch from Scott's Corners to Big Stone Beach, which winds past beautiful coastal forests, freshwater marshes, and out to the Delaware Bay. The marshlands anywhere east of Scott's Corners are excellent for rails including Virginia Rail and Sora, possibly even Black, though seeing any of them is tough. Access is limited to the public roadways; please do not attempt to enter the marsh. Both Chuck-will's-widows and Whip-poor-wills are numerous and vocal in the woodlands during spring and summer. Check the pines for the last half mile or so before the beach—they are often attractive to migrants. The bayshore itself can be productive for ducks, gulls, and shorebirds.

Directions to Big Stone Beach:
From the convergence of Routes 1 & 113 just north of Milford, head north on Route 1 about 1.3 miles. Turn right (NE) at Thompsonville Road and go 3.5 miles. Turn right (E) onto Scotts Corner Road, arriving at Scott's Corners in 1.1 miles. Take a left (NE) onto Big Stone Beach Road. The road reaches the bayshore in another 2.6 miles.

Slaughter Beach & DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Reserve

6 miles east of Milford
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife
Web site:

Slaughter Beach is typically the best place in Delaware to see Red Knots gorging on horseshoe crab eggs in spring, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Reserve allows visitors to access a wealth of information about the horseshoe crab/shorebird phenomenon and observe it, simultaneously. As such, it is an ideal starting point for any visitor wanting to experience Delaware Bay's premier wildlife spectacle.

Though the peak of shorebirds and horseshoe crabs is brief, the nature center and the area around it are worth a visit all year round. The gravel bars and shell reefs at the mouth of the Mispillion River are good places to find gulls, terns and American Oystercatchers. The marsh along Lighthouse Road is thick with Clapper Rails and Seaside Sparrows, and may have Short-eared Owls in winter. Both Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows are found here in season.

The bayshore itself can be accessed from a number of points in the town of Slaughter Beach, with those on the north end of town (nearer the nature center) often being the most productive for shorebirds and least populated by beachcombers, bathers, and other non-birding visitors. Please take care to not disturb shorebird feeding activity, and be careful to avoid trespassing.

Directions to DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Reserve:
From the intersection of Route 1 and Route 36 (Cedar Beach Road) east of Milford, take 36 east toward Slaughter Beach. After 4.5 miles, turn left (NE) onto Lighthouse Road. The nature center is at the end of Lighthouse Road, a distance of about 1 mile. To view the bayshore, return to Route 36, turn left (SE) and cross the bridge over Cedar Creek. Park at one of the first several short beach access roads, e.g., Evans Drive, on the left (E). Walk out to the beach and scan, especially to the left (N), in the direction of the jetty.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

5 miles northeast of Milton
Managed by: United States Fish & Wildlife Service
Web site:

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge easily ranks among the mid-Atlantic region's very finest birding spots, though it has never achieved quite the renown of its sister refuge, Bombay Hook, mostly because of Prime Hook's somewhat more confusing geographic layout. Though it takes a little while to orient oneself to the several access points, it's more than worth the effort.

Broadkill Beach Road slices across the southern portion of the refuge, and allows access to the headquarters area, with its expanding network of foot trails, and the very productive Broadkill Impoundment. Farther north, sections of Prime Hook Beach Road and Fowler Beach Road traverse diverse wetland habitats and also offer fantastic birding. It is easy to spend anywhere from a few hours to several days exploring Prime Hook.

At the headquarters area, take the Boardwalk Trail (a ½ mile loop) or the Dike Trail (½ mile out and ½ mile back), each of which can be covered in an hour or so and feature freshwater marsh and forest edge. Longer hikes for those so inclined can be easily pieced together here, too.

The Broadkill Impoundment stretches for nearly a mile along the south side of Broadkill Beach Road, just before the town of Broadkill Beach. It is a favorite spot for watching Snow Geese and sifting the flocks for rarer species like Ross's and Cackling Goose. The impoundment is a superb shorebirding site, the species list varying with the water levels.

Prime Hook Beach Road and Fowler Beach Road also feature roadside wetland birding from gravel pull offs. The wetlands along the former are a bit more fresh, while the latter has a more saline environment. From snipe to bitterns, terns to falcons, and rails to sparrows, it's often hard to know what bird to look at next.

Directions to the headquarters area:
From the intersection of Route 1 south and Route 16 (Broadkill Beach Road), take 16 east toward Broadkill Beach. Turn left (N) from 16 onto Turkle Pond Road, 1.2 miles from Route 1. Turkle Pond Road ends at the visitor center after another 1.5 miles. For the Broadkill Impoundment, return to Broadkill Beach Road, turn left (E), and go 2.2 miles. The impoundment is on the right (SE) after the large bend in the road. From here, it is 3.4 miles back to Route 1, bypassing the headquarters area.

Directions to Prime Hook Beach Road:
From the intersection of Routes 1 & 5, north of Milton, go north on 1 for 0.6 mile. Turn right (NE) on Prime Hook Road, then go 0.9 mile before bearing right at the fork to stay on Prime Hook Road. The prime birding area begins about 2.4 miles past that fork and runs another 1.3 miles east to the bay.

Directions to Fowler Beach Road:
Return to the fork of Prime Hook Beach Road & Cods Road, and go right (N) on Cods for 1.7 miles until it ends at Fowler Beach Road. Go right (E) on Fowler Beach Road about 2 miles to a marsh and wetlands area just short of the bayshore. There is a viewing platform on the north side of the road near the bay, a good place from which to scan both the marsh and the shoreline.

Next Sites: Ocean Beaches & Inland Bays Region - Click to continue.

The Delaware Birding Trail is a joint project of the following:

  • Delaware Audubon Society
  • Delmarva Ornithological Society,
  • Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control,
    Division of Fish & Wildlife,

This project was funded, in part, through the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife with funding from the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program, Division of Federal Assistance, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Original Text by Jeffrey A. Gordon

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