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, TNC, 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: Hybrid road and topographical map showing an orange pointed centered northeast of Milford, DE.

Size

2,801 acres

Explore our work in Delware

What We're Doing at Milford Neck Preserve

A smiling woman holds a small bird by its feet. The bir
Migratory Songbirds Aya Pickett holds a Common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) banded as part of a study of the lifecycle of neotropical migratory songbirds. © Louis Mason

Supporting Scientific Research

Monitoring Migratory Songbirds

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

Birds are safely captured in a mist net and then identified, aged, sexed, weighed and measured by Pickett. Each bird is assigned a standardized muscle and fat score. Before release, a USGS numbered leg-band is affixed to each bird for future identification. Pickett has the required federal and state permits to capture and study these birds.

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

Birds are safely captured in a mist net and then identified, aged, sexed, weighed and measured by Pickett. Each bird is assigned a standardized muscle and fat score. Before release, a USGS numbered leg-band is affixed to each bird for future identification. Pickett has the required federal and state permits to capture and study these birds.

Pickett’s subjective observations will be just as important as the data analysis. Behavioral observations will be used to corroborate the results: frequent observations of birds actively refueling will suggest important use of stopover sites while infrequent or rare such observations will suggest light or non-significant use of resources. 

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.

Expand to see more Collapse to see less

Delaware's Melodic Migration

Milford Neck Preserve, where the tidal wetlands meet the coastal forest, is the perfect place to study migratory songbirds that stop to feed and rest during their long annual migrations each spring and fall.

Learn More About the Study
A small brown bird with a dun colored breast and blue wings is held by a person prior to being banded as part of a scientific study.
A small bird with white streaked gray wings, yellow throat and a greenish head is held by a person prior to being banded as part of a scientific study.
A small bird with a bright yellow breast and face, black throat and cap and greenish brown wings.
A small black and white striped bird with a white throat is held by a person prior to be banded as part of a scientific study.
A small yellow bird with greenish brown wings and a dark gray cap stares quizzically at the camera.
Elevated view of a large group of people.
Forest Restoration Staff from TNC and Chesapeake Utilities Calpine gather for a group photo prior to a tree planting event. © Robert Merhaut

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...

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. 

Expand to see more Collapse to see less
A wide flat channel of water curves through low green w
Milford Neck Preserve View of the marsh at the preserve along the Delaware Bay. June 2020. © John Hinkson / TNC

Enhancing Coastal Resilience

Restoring Wetlands

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. 

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. 

Expand to see more Collapse to see less

Explore Nature

Need more nature? Visit some of TNC's other preserves.

Stay in Touch

Subscribe to Nature News, our monthly e-newsletter. Get the latest news and updates about our conservation efforts locally and around the world, delivered straight to your inbox.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map