Important Bird and Birding Areas
Delaware Bayshore Region

IBBA Site Guide

Cape May and Cumberland Counties
Coordinates: N 39.23696
W 75.09268
Delaware Bay: New England / Mid-Atlantic Coast

Area: 56,633 Acres     

Habitat: Extensive tidal wetland with upland forest, shrub scrub and sandy beaches

Site Description: The Delaware Bayshore Region, stretching along the southwestern coast of New Jersey, contains salt marsh, woodland, beach and dune habitats and many tidal rivers. In addition to providing valuable recreational opportunities, it is widely recognized for its vast wetlands and diverse wildlife. Over 300 bird species can be found annually, including waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and landbirds. The Delaware Bayshore is a critical migratory stopover for shorebirds, supporting the second-greatest shorebird congregation in North America. The wetlands of the Delaware Bay are an internationally recognized wetland of importance designated under the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands, a treaty signed in 1971 for the purpose of wetlands conservation. This area is also recognized as a Hemispheric Reserve as part of an intercontinental network of protected sites known formally as the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) designated this site a Natural Heritage Priority Site. Priority areas along the Delaware Bay Shoreline include Cape May National Wildlife Refuge-Delaware Bay Division, Dennis Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Heislerville WMA, Egg Island WMA, Fortescue WMA, The Glades Natural Area, Nantuxent WMA, New Sweden WMA, Dix WMA and Bayside WMA.

IBA Criteria:
Conservation Concern – State-endangered (B)Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon
Conservation Concern – State-threatened (W)Bald Eagle
Conservation Concern – State-threatened (B)Osprey
Regional Responsibility Species - BCR 30 Salt Marsh/Wetland (B)American Black Duck, Black Rail, Black Scoter, Brant, Clapper Rail, Mallard, Marsh Wren, Osprey, Salt-marsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Virginia Rail, Willet
Significant Congregations (W)Waterfowl
Significant Migrant Stopover/Flyover (SM)Shorebirds
Significant Migrant Stopover/Flyover (FM)Raptors
Long-term Research/Monitoring
Red Knots with Gulls
Red Knots with GullsBill Dalton
Birds: A major stop on the Atlantic Flyway, the Delaware Bayshore is a critical spring staging ground for migratory shorebirds including Ruddy Turnstones, state-threatened Red Knots, state-special concern Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers. The Bayshore and surrounding forest also provide important stopover habitat for migratory passerines and 17 raptor species. Many fall migrants follow the Bayshore’s marsh edge to avoid the open water Delaware Bay crossing. Waterfowl congregate in large numbers off-shore during the winter months. Many secretive marsh birds, such as the state-threatened King Rails and state-special concern Least Bitterns, nest in significant numbers within the Bayshore’s abundant salt marshes. This area provides nesting habitat for important populations of Willets, Marsh Wrens, state-threatened Ospreys and state-endangered Northern Harriers and Peregrine Falcons. In addition, the Delaware Bayshore supports the largest number of breeding and wintering Bald Eagles in the state. The estuary also provides critical breeding, migration and wintering habitats for American Black Ducks, a species experiencing range-wide declines.

Conservation: The Delaware Bayshore Region is largely owned and managed by nonprofit conservation organizations, land trusts and federal and state agencies. This region also maintains the highest concentration of imperiled species of wildlife in NJ and the lowest density of urban development in the state. However, the remaining unprotected parcels are under increasing development pressure from commuters working in Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, DE. Habitat loss and fragmentation is a major threat to the integrity of these otherwise contiguous wetland and forested habitats. Protection and restoration of privately-owned land can be accomplished by prioritizing lands for acquisition and by encouraging private lands management. Additional conflicts exist on Delaware Bay beaches between natural resource management and human use. Most beaches are heavily developed for tourism and used intensively during spring and summer months. This results in damaging disturbance to nesting and foraging birds from beachgoers, all-terrain vehicles, unleashed dogs, and free-roaming or feral cats. Migratory shorebirds are especially impacted by the increased disturbance. To protect birds from disturbance, the NJDEP closes many key Delaware Bay beaches, disseminates educational materials, and increases law enforcement personnel during spring migration. Migratory shorebirds are further threatened by erosion of the shoreline and a limited food supply due to intense harvesting of horseshoe crabs. Several conservation organizations and governmental agencies have successfully petitioned for a temporary moratorium on the harvest during the horseshoe crab spawning season. However, the tenuous status of this closed season could lead to the reinstatement of the harvest in the near future. NJDEP’s Plan to Protect Shorebird Habitat on Delaware Bay has led to the development and implementation of many protective strategies for bayshore habitat and to the formation of an international working group. Additional threats to the Bayshore Region include oil spills, the practice of salt marsh ditching to control mosquito populations and create tillable land for farming, and establishment of the common reed (Phragmites australis), the aggressive invasive plant species that has replaced much of the beneficial marsh vegetation along creek channels. State and federal agencies have worked with several private landowners in the region on marsh restoration projects that restore the natural hydrology of the marsh, control Phragmites and improve habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl. Similarly, Public Service Enterprise Group’s Estuary Enhancement Program is responsible for restoring over 11,000 acres of marsh. This program was initiated in 1994 as a component of Salem Generating Station’s water discharge permit. Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program, State Agricultural Development Committee, The Nature Conservancy, American Littoral Society, NJ Conservation Foundation, Natural Lands Trust, Delaware Bayshore Project and NJ Audubon Society (NJAS) are among the many organizations that have partnered to protect and enhance the Delaware Bayshore Region. NJAS’ Important Bird and Birding Areas Program is focusing recent conservation and habitat restoration efforts in this area. Together, NJAS and these organizations are responsible for successfully acquiring lands for open space, improving habitat, conducting outreach to landowners about conservation opportunities, affecting policy and implementing effective monitoring programs.

Additional Information: Site Report
Cook's Beach on Delaware Bay
Cook's Beach on Delaware BayMark S. Garland