Stories in Delaware

Delaware's Can't Miss Bird Migrations

Fall is here, and with it comes one of the world’s great waterfowl migrations. Few places are better for watching than Delaware.

Great egret (Ardea alba) fishing for food
Fishing Great Egret Great egret (Ardea alba) fishing for food © Dave Spier

Wading Birds

Marshland sites and other expanses of freshwater wetlands are filled with big, showy wading birds until early November. See them now or wait until next May. Among the species to be seen are: snowy egret, great egret, cattle egrets, green heron, great blue heron, little blue Heron and glossy Ibis.

Canada geese, both resident and migrating populations, are abundant in autumn, with vast flocks feeding in open fields and long chevrons flying overheard. Among the Canadas are spectacularly large numbers of migrating Snow Geese.

Harlequin ducks
Waterfowl Harlequin ducks © Peter Massas/Wikimedia Commons


Birds like Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Northern Pintail have already arrived in large numbers from their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. The numbers of Black Duck and Mallard Duck, year round residents in Delaware, are rapidly increasing as migrants from the north arrive to spend the winter here. By late November, birds like Bufflehead, Common Merganser and Horned Grebe can usually be found in open water sections of marshland. Places such as Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, both on the Delaware Bay, are favorite late fall and winter time birding sites. Milford Neck is home to many of the same species seen at the refuges. Observation is easy from along Big Stone Beach Road.

The bitter days of January and February, especially those with stiff winds, bring great opportunities to observe winter ducks and others at places like Indian River Inlet and Cape Henlopen State Park. Watchers will see Harlequin Ducks, both eider species, Northern Gannet (a gull-like predator of fish) and other sea ducks, such as the Common Scoter, Black-winged Scoter, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon and Long-tailed Duck.

Cape May warbler
Migratory Songbird Cape May warbler © Gerorge C. Gress/TNC

Neotropical Birds

The fall and winter migrations certainly aren’t the end of the story. Come mid-spring, birdsong fills the air as neotropical migrants begin to arrive from wintering grounds to the south. Most are woodland species that are easily seen in New Castle County and The Nature Conservancy’s Ponders Tract near Ellendale. The season is followed by a great shorebird migration that coincides with horseshoe crab spawning from mid-May through mid-June. Bayshore beaches offer prime viewing.

Hawks and other raptors begin to arrive August through late September. Great sites for watching include Brandywine Creek State Park and the Delaware Nature Society hawk watch near Ashland.

Then the cycle begins again.