Places We Protect

Milford Neck Nature Preserve

Delaware

Aerial view looking down on tidal marshlands. Creeks and channels wind through the wetlands. A thin strip of beach provides a buffer from the ocean.
Milford Neck Preserve Aerial view of tidal marshlands at Milford Neck in Eastern Kent County Delaware. © TNC; Aerial support provided by LightHawk

Milford Neck offers an abundance of natural beauty and biological diversity.

Overview

Description

Milford Neck's landscape can be described as a mosaic of undeveloped beaches and dunes, shifting shorelines, vast tidal marshes, island hammocks, swamp, upland forests and open farmland. These lands are owned and managed by the State of Delaware, The Nature Conservancy, Delaware Wild Lands, private individuals and others. Together, these landowners conserve one of the First State’s most spectacular natural areas.

Milford Neck offers prime habitat for more than a million migratory shorebirds that visit each spring to feed on eggs laid by horseshoe crabs that converge on Delaware Bay to spawn. The area also stands out for its forests. Though interrupted by scattered farms, this is the only remaining forested area greater than 1,000 acres on the entire coast of Delaware. It provides crucial habitat for species that require large, open tracts of forest for part or all of their life cycles.

Access

CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC

Location

Eastern Kent County on the Delaware Bay

Map with marker: This preserve is closed to the public.

Size

2,801 acres

Explore our work in this region

What We're Doing: Building Forest Habitat

To protect and build on what remains of these coastal forests, TNC has engaged in intensive restoration at the Milford Neck Nature Preserve since 1998. Efforts include planting more than 159,000 hardwood tree seedlings interspersed with small clusters of diverse native vegetation and trees in what are called habitat islands. The islands include five varieties of oak, southern arrow wood, winterberry, persimmon and tulip tree. 

These habitat islands shelter wildlife from weather and predators, and they attract birds that transport and deposit seeds needed to regenerate the forest. In recent years, the habitat islands have begun welcoming migrant songbird species, including pine warbler, indigo bunting, blue grosbeak, common yellowthroat and yellow-breasted chat, a species of special concern. 

A small brown songbird with blue and black wings.
Indigo Bunting An indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) caught for banding by graduate student Aya Pickett during the Fall 2020 migration at Milford Neck Preserve. © Aya Pickett

Monitoring Migratory Songbirds

Delaware State University graduate student Aya Pickett has been working to quantify the importance of Delaware Bayshores to migratory songbirds through a seasonal banding project funded by Delaware Sea Grant.

From banding efforts conducted in November 2020 during the fall migration, Aya reports that the most common species caught were myrtle warbler, common yellowthroat and gray catbird. Of all the birds that were captured, she says her favorites are always the warblers, both for their beauty and the amazing physical feats they can accomplish.

Restoring Wetlands to Enhance Coastal Resilience 

Reforestation also provides another benefit: resiliency to flooding from coastal storms. Healthy, functioning forests also help control salinity in the water to promote development of healthy marshes that can stand up to floods. 

We are also planning a major restoration of the marsh, where old ditches drained tidal areas and forest. Those alterations, combined with the impacts of several major storms and sea level rise, has transformed 500 acres of marsh to open water and has led to a significant reduction in forest cover that borders the marsh. 

The damage has decreased the capacity of natural systems to attenuate floodwaters, prevent saltwater intrusion, and diminish wind energy. The result is sustained flooding on roadways and in low-lying areas during storms, repeated damage to critical infrastructure, and salt poisoning of soils. 

We are working with our partners at the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife and Delaware Wild Lands to develop an optimized wetland restoration plan that allows for natural processes to occur; enhances habitat diversity, improves the ability of the bayfront wetlands to tolerate and respond to storm-driven inundation and sea level rise; and buffers important palustrine wetlands, upland forest and agricultural lands from saltwater intrusion and inundation. 

This plan will be the basis for future large-scale restoration efforts at Milford Neck. The project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resilience Program. 

Aerial view looking down on a patchwork of open farmland edged by thick stands of trees.
Milford Neck Preserve Drone photo looking northeast toward Delaware Bay © Robert Merhaut