Birds in Delaware

Important Bird Areas in Delaware

What Is An "Important Bird Area"?

Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of bird. IBAs include sites for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds. IBAs may be a few acres or thousands of acres, but usually they are discrete sites that stand out from the surrounding landscape. IBAs may include public or private lands, or both, and they may be protected or unprotected.

The National Audubon Society, as the U.S. Partner for BirdLife International, is working to identify these sites. The IBA program recognizes that habitat loss and fragmentation are the most serious threats facing populations of birds across America and around the world.

To qualify as an IBA, sites must satisfy at least one of the following criteria. The site must support:

  •  Species of conservation concern (e.g. threatened and endangered species)
  •  Restricted-ranges species -- species vulnerable because they are not widely distributed
  •  Species which are vulnerable because their populations are concentrated in one general habitat type or biome
  •  Species, or groups of similar species (such as waterfowl or shorebirds), that are vulnerable because they occur at high densities due to their congregatory behavior

Important Bird Areas often support a significant proportion of one or more species' total population.

Identification of a site as an IBA indicates it's unique importance for birds. Nonetheless, some IBAs are of greater significance than others. A site may be globally important, or important at the continental, national, or state level. The IBA identification process provides a data-driven means for cataloging the most important sites for birds throughout the country and the world. The use of a hierarchical classification system further helps to establish priorities for conservation efforts.

Delaware IBAs -- Our Coastal Zone

Delaware's Coastal Zone, nearly 270,000-acres, has been designated as an IBA of Global Magnitude by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the National Audubon Society, co-sponsors of the Important Bird Areas Program in the United States.

Globally Important Bird Areas are found in all 50 states and include many of the best-known sites for birds in the country, such as: the Everglades National Park, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- and the Delaware Bay, which includes much of Delaware's Coastal Zone. Delaware Audubon's IBA Chair Ann Rydgren says, "To be in the same company as the Everglades and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge confirms what birders all over the world have known for some time -- Delaware's Coastal Zone is an extraordinary region for birds."

Delaware's Coastal Zone, including the C&D Canal, and the Inland Bays, contains approximately 270,000 acres. Excluding open water within this area, approximately 232,000 acres are wetlands and uplands.

Breeding distribution maps indicate that the Delaware Coastal Zone contains breeding grounds for several WatchListed and endangered/threatened birds. These include the following species: Piping Plover; American Black Duck; Black Rail; Least Tern; Chuck-will's-widow; Wood Thrush; Prairie, Prothonotary, Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers; Salt-marsh, Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows; and Brown-headed Nuthatch.

The importance of the Delaware Coastal Zone for birds cannot be overstated. More horseshoe crabs spawn here than anywhere else on earth. During their spring migration from South America to the Arctic, tens of thousands of the WatchListed Red Knot, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitchers stop in Delaware to consume huge quantities of eggs laid by horseshoe crabs. This has made Delaware one of the most crucial sites for migrating shorebirds on the entire Atlantic Coast of North America.

The high percentage of public and conservation lands in the Zone, plus its restrictions on heavy industry, make it a truly outstanding area for the protection of birds.

White Clay Creek Watershed

White Clay Creek is an IBA of National Significance because the habitat provides for Cerulean Warbler and several other listed species, including the WatchListed Kentucky and Prairie warblers, and state listed Grasshopper Sparrow and Hooded Warbler. It is also significant as an important stopover for migrating birds.

Red Clay

This site is a mosaic of Piedmont hills, valleys, woodlands, grasslands, protected land, Hoopes Reservoir, the Red Clay Creek and its floodplain, and small, scattered wetlands. The site includes the Ashland Nature Center, Delaware Nature Society's Burrows Run Preserve, and Auburn Heights State Park. Long-term bird surveys have occurred at the Hoopes Reservoir, Ashland Nature Center, and Burrows Run Preserve.

Pea Patch Island Heronry

Image: Great Blue Heron in Delaware - Photo by Steven Breukelman

Pea Patch Island, in the Delaware Bay near Delaware City, is a Continentally Important Bird Area. It is home for the largest heronry of mixed species on the East Coast.

The island supports significant populations of breeding pairs of nine species of wading birds, including Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis and Tri-colored Heron. Visitors to the historic Civil War site of Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island can view the southern side of the heronry from a viewing tower.

Thanks to the following people who helped accomplish IBA designation for the Coastal Zone:
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control - Charles Salkin, Miriam Lynam Pomilio, Sarah Cooksey, Carl Yetter, David Carter;
Delmarva Ornithological Society - Jeffrey Gordon, Howard Brokaw;
Editors of Birds of Delaware - Gene K. Hess, Richard L. West, Maurice V. Barnhill III, Lorraine M. Fleming;
Partners in Flight - Karen Bennett, Kitt Heckscher, Rick McCorkle, John Janowski;
Delaware Audubon IBA Technical Committee - Peggy Jahn, Dorothy Miller, Andrew Urquhart, and Ann Rydgren, chair.