Maryland's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was originally
established in 1933 as a haven for ducks and geese migrating along the
Atlantic Flyway. The Refuge is a popular place during the November migration
when upwards of 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks can be seen at the Refuge.
Another special feature of the Refuge is the resident bald eagle population.
Blackwater hosts over 150 bald eagles during the winter and spotting one from the Wildlife Drive is the highlight of
many a visit to the Refuge. In December, bald eagles begin nesting in tall loblolly pine trees. Eggs are laid around mid or late February, and the eagle pair will
return to their large nests every breeding season until the nests are blown down or disturbed. At this time,
Blackwater Refuge hosts one of the largest breeding populations of bald eagles in the country.
Although many visitors come to see the geese and eagles, Blackwater also contains over 250 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians,
165 species of threatened and endangered plants, and
numerous mammals that can be spotted throughout the year in Blackwater's marshes, forests, meadows, and fields. Some fortunate
visitors even catch a glimpse of the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel or the recently delisted migrant
Places to see wildlife include:
Geese, swans and ducks are present in the marsh along with hawks, great blue herons, and a few species of shorebirds.
Mid-winter observations are best during thaws. Eagles, both bald and golden, are sometimes conspicuous along the
Wildlife Drive. Great horned owls are incubating eggs while bald eagles are rebuilding their nests high in loblolly pine trees.
First northward bound migrants appear late in February - killdeer, robins, and bluebirds. Eagles lay eggs late in the
month. Wintering waterfowl are preparing for the long flight north through intense foraging.
Most migratory waterfowl depart for points north. Masses of red-winged blackbirds pass through; some remain to
nest. Osprey return from southern wintering grounds and begin constructing nests.
Resident ducks and geese are incubating eggs. The majority of migrant marsh birds return by mid-April. Blue-winged
and green-winged teal passing through. (Blue-winged are latest in spring and earliest in fall). Delmarva fox squirrels
are born. Young bald eaglets begin hatching (although some eagles have been known to nest early, and their eaglets hatch
by the end of February). Osprey, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite all begin to nest.
Late April and early May heralds peak shorebird migrations.
Migratory songbirds peak in late April and early May with warblers being most conspicuous and abundant.
White-tail fawns (usually twins) begin to appear. Eaglets start to fledge; this will occur from the end of the
month through the middle of June. The first broods of waterfowl appear.
Ospreys hatching in June. Eaglets fledge. Songbirds begin to nest.
Local goslings start to fly. Large quantities of insects being consumed by swallows, kingbirds, and flycatchers.
The conspicuous marsh hibiscus (mallow) begins to bloom along marsh edges at end of month. Osprey young
leave the nest.
Wading bird numbers increase. Blue-winged teal from the north arrive on southward migration. Some bald eagles
disperse northward after the breeding season.
Note: In the summers be prepared for large concentrations of flies and mosquitoes in the marshes and woods.
Ospreys migrate to South and Central America. Waterfowl numbers gradually increase. Egrets and herons
accumulate until cold weather pushes them south. Tickseed sunflowers bloom; cattails go to seed. Songbird
migration peaks in late September and early October. Toads are abundant.
October - December
Autumn colors peak. Blackbirds, the last of the songbird migrants, peak in October and November.
Abundance of ducks and geese gradually increases. Peaks occur in late October or November.
Tundra swans from Northwest Canada usually arrive in early November. Several hundred remain throughout the winter.
White-tailed and sika deer breed from October to December.
Bald eagle numbers increase with the arrival of migrants from the north. Golden eagles are occasionally seen
during winter. Waterfowl numbers decrease. Some remain all winter, others move south or disperse throughout the
Delmarva Peninsula. Prescribed burning of the marsh begins for regeneration of specific waterfowl food resources.
Click on the links below to view informational flash cards featuring some of Blackwater's most interesting
American Black Duck,
Great Blue Heron,
Great Horned Owl,
Sika Deer ,
Northern River Otter,
Reptiles - Diamondback
Box Turtle, Northern
Water Snake, Red-bellied
Snake , Common
Garter Snake, Rat
Amphibians - Spotted
Fishes - Largemouth
Butterflies - American
Tiger Swallowtail, Giant
Spangled Fritillary, Monarch,
See the Resources
page on this site for Refuge brochures and wildlife
Nutria News: On Nov. 17, 2004, the Washington Post reported on the fact that the Blackwater
Refuge staff and their partners have eradicated the destructive nutria. With continued vigilance, Maryland
wildlife authorities should
be able to keep nutria out of the Refuge and allow the marshes to recover. Read the Post article for more details: Blackwater Refuge Now Nutria-Free.
Blackwater Refuge is home to an exploding population of
non-native nutria. The South American rodents were originally
brought to the area to stimulate the local fur trade but over the
years have inhabited the refuge and are now threatening its
ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a leading
participant in the Chesapeake Nutria Partnership, which is
conducting a marsh restoration and nutria control project on the
refuge and surrounding state and private lands to address the
You can learn more about the nutria and how the project is working to eliminate or reduce the animal's
impact by visiting our Nutria Fact
Sheet page. Also, please take a moment to view our Nutria
Slide Show and see images of the nutria's impact at Blackwater
If you would like to learn more about what you can do to
support the project, email us at
Thank you for your