The Nature Conservancy and Partners Restore Important Bird Migration Habitat Along Virginia's Eastern Shore

Over 7,500 trees and shrubs will be planted over the next four weeks providing feeding grounds for millions of birds during their spring migration

NASSAWADOX, VA | February 16, 2011

The Nature Conservancy, together with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and private landowners, have begun work on 418 acres of wetland and habitat restoration projects slated to be completed over the next two years. 

This week, volunteers from the Virginia Master Naturalists and AmeriCorps are planting 3,500 wax myrtle shrubs at the Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area Preserve. Later this month, contractors will plant 4,000 shrubs and trees on two privately owned parcels, representing the first phase of restoration actions intended to deliver increased habitat for migratory birds that “stopover” on Virginia’s Eastern Shore during annual migrations.

“Restoring this habitat will help millions of birds find the rest and food they need in order to store up enough energy to survive their long migration”, said Joe Scalf, project manager with The Nature Conservancy. “The restored habitat will offer immediate benefits to migrating songbirds such as the prairie warbler, but also to resident birds and wildlife such as the northern bobwhite and bald eagle.”

The lower Delmarva Peninsula is a globally-important coastal migration corridor for the passage of millions of shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, seabirds, waterfowl, and wading species which depend on the abundance of marshes, beaches, mudflats and lagoons found along the coastlines. However, many songbird species rely on woody habitats found on the mainland as they are funneled toward the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula during migrations. Migratory songbirds travelling along the East Coast rely on large and small patches of woodland called “stopover sites” – sometimes only a few hundred square feet in size – to rest and refuel during migratory journeys that can span more than 10,000 miles.

Bird populations are suffering in part because much of their stopover habitat is being reduced or fragmented by incompatible land uses. Some birds are literally dropping from the sky as they die from exhaustion or hunger. With scientists predicting the potential extinction of 10 percent of all bird species by the end of this century, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups are working to save bird diversity by protecting and restoring not only the summer breeding grounds, but also the stopover or staging areas of migratory birds across North America.

In addition to the wildlife habitat, the trees and shrubs will help filter surface water of sediment, fertilizers and excess nutrients, and increase the recharging of groundwater supplies. Most of the work involves planting and protecting fruit-bearing shrubs and deciduous trees that are indigenous to the area and returning agricultural fields to former natural conditions. In some cases, wetlands will be restored by filling ditches that have drained historic wetlands for agriculture or other land uses for generations. 

“The benefits of these restoration sites go far beyond the migrating birds”, said Steve Parker, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve Program. “Our private partners are making very important contributions because the actions they are taking on their property will increase the quantity and quality of surface and groundwater, a contribution essential for sustaining our agriculture and aquaculture-based economies, as well as the drinking water supply, of the Virginia Eastern Shore community.”

The project is funded by a North American Wetland Conservation Act Grant awarded to the Southern Tip Ecological Partnership III (STEP 3), a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District, several private landowners and other supporters. 

The first restorations currently taking place are located on privately owned, non-Nature Conservancy properties, near Cheriton and Onancock. The largest restoration project is located at the Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area Preserve, east of Parksley and recently acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia with assistance by The Nature Conservancy.  The Natural Heritage Division of the Department of Conservation and Recreation is enlisting volunteers from AmeriCorps, alternative spring break student groups, master naturalists and the local community for the massive 180-acre planting.  Restoration will begin on several other project sites later this year.  The STEP 3 partnership also aims to protect 772 acres, primarily through the donation of conservation easements.

Some of the birds that will benefit from this habitat restoration include:

Bald eagleLesser scaupAmerican widgeon 
Peregrine falconGreater scaupBufflehead 
American oystercatcherSnow geeseGoldeneye 
WhimbrelAtlantic brantTurkey 
Upland sandpiperCanada geeseQuail 
Salt-marsh sharptailed sparrow   Green-winged teal           Hooded merganser 
WoodthrushRuddy duckRed-breasted merganser  
Acadian flycatcherGadwallTundra swan 
Marsh wrenBlue-winged tealPrairie warbler 
Snowy egretWood duckWhite-eyed vireo 
Black duckRedheadYellow-breasted chat 
Northern pintailRing-necked duckGlossy ibis 


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Contact information

Tom McCann
Associate Director
Arlington, VA
(703) 841-5317

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