The Mid-Atlantic Coast Waterfowl Conservation Region includes portions of the North Atlantic Coastal Plain, Appalachian Mountains, Southeastern Plains/Piedmont and the Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain regions of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (IAFWA 1998). A chain of extensive estuarine embayments characterizes the North Atlantic Coastal Plain, stretching from the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays , along the coastal bays of New Jersey to Long Island Sound. The portion of the Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain region that occurs in the Mid-Atlantic Coast Waterfowl Conservation Region includes the extensive swamps and marshes along the Atlantic coast from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to the Back Bay estuary. Highly productive shallow water and adjacent upland habitats including barrier beach and dune, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds, intertidal sand and mudflats, salt marsh islands, fringing tidal salt marshes, freshwater tidal marsh, and maritime forest characterize this portion of the region. The Mid-Atlantic coast contains several very significant areas for waterfowl and hence DU involvement: the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware Bay, New Jersey coast and Long Island.


The Chesapeake Bay is the nations largest estuary that drains 64,000 square miles. This area is known for its historic abundance of waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, shellfish, and fish, and its network of fresh, brackish, and saltwater marshes that support these populations. These losses have lead to steep declines in water quality and 90% losses of bay grasses (SAV), with 70-80% declines in waterfowl populations (especially canvasback, redhead and black ducks). The Bay once housed over 3 million wintering waterfowl, but now only sees 1/3 of that historic number. Recreational and commercial fisheries have also declined. The two most important contributing factors to the decline in waterfowl populations are 1) widespread loss of SAV and 2) deterioration of shallow water wetland habitat within the watershed. The watershed has been identified as a priority area by the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, a National Conservation Priority by the USDA, and a RAMSAR site by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. It is the most important wintering ground for waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway.


The Delaware Bay is one of the most important wintering areas in North America and a major link in the migratory chain that stretches from South America to Canada along the Atlantic flyway. More than 250 different species of waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and other neotropical migrants, totaling over one million birds, stage in the Delaware Bay in preparation for the next leg of their southward migration. Management of restored emergent wetlands within this watershed will benefit migrating and wintering green-winged teal, American black ducks, mallards, and Northern pintails. The amount of breeding and nesting habitat for American black ducks, mallards and wood ducks will increase as wetlands are restored and grassed and forested wetland buffers are planted. Further, the Delaware Bay watershed is an important wintering area for the Atlantic population (AP) of Canada geese. Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans will use the protected fields and restored wetlands as wintering habitat.


Long Island is traditionally known for its extensive network of coastal salt marshes that provided important nesting, staging, and wintering grounds for a large number of migratory water birds. Most of the tidal wetlands were grid-ditched in the 1930s and 40s in an attempt to control mosquito populations. This ditching inadvertently had negative impacts on waterfowl, water birds, and shorebirds by removing panne and pool areas that provide critical habitat for many migratory species. Ditching also caused significant changes to the vegetative community: palustrine and estuarine emergent communities converted to less desirable reed and brush communities. More than half the original tidal wetlands have been lost to development. Today, despite considerable loss and degradation, Long Island marshes represent some of the most important wintering grounds for waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway. Priority species using this area include northern pintail, American black duck, mallard, lesser and greater scaup, cerulean warbler, Louisiana water thrush, and the salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow. Remaining wetlands are critical to protect and restore not only because many species depend on these existing habitats, but also because conservation opportunities will decrease over time as population and development continues to increase throughout Long Island.


Coastal New Jersey, or the Atlantic Coastal Plain, covers 3/5 of southern New Jersey. In the east the landscape consists of pine forests and salt marshes. New Jersey 's coast is an important, even vital, stop in the global migration of many birds. While significantly altered by human land-use activities, many of these habitats are still largely intact functioning natural communities. Through government legislation and regulation, some of the most destructive past practices, such as dredging and filling of coastal salt and freshwater marshes, have been largely eliminated. However, development and the consequent loss of adjacent, upland forests proceed. While large expanses of upland and wetland habitats are presently protected as public open space, additional open space acquisition is needed. Salt marshes and shallow water estuarine habitats of this area provide food and refuge for many fishes and crustaceans of recreational and commercial value as well as important habitat for birds, mammals, and other organisms.


Waterfowl Characteristics

Areas of historical importance to waterfowl in the Mid-Atlantic Coast Waterfowl Conservation Region include coastal marshes and bays along the Long Island and New Jersey coast and the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. Expansive estuarine and near-shore habitats along the Atlantic Coast historically provided abundant SAV and animal foods (including clams, snails and other invertebrates) used by waterfowl (Peterson and Peterson 1979). Tidal and riverine freshwater and brackish emergent marshes provide sheltered resting areas for wintering ducks and geese (Gordon et al. 1989).


Twelve species of waterfowl nest and breed in the North Atlantic Coastal Plain region, of which mallard, wood duck, black duck, and Canada goose are the most numerous. Waterfowl migrate in substantial numbers down the Atlantic Coast , stopping to rest and feed in coastal bays and wetlands. During 1986-1990, 72% of all black ducks wintered in the Atlantic Flyway. A substantial number of wintering black ducks are found in bays, marshes, and flats in the back-barrier lagoons of Long Island and New Jersey.


About 80% of the wintering population of Atlantic brant is found in the back-barrier lagoons of New Jersey and Long Island, while the Delaware Bay wetlands are a major staging area for 80% of the Atlantic flyway population of snow geese (as many as 200,000 birds). In the 1980s, the Chesapeake Bay region wintered 80% of the Atlantic population of Canada geese, supporting a multi-million dollar hunting industry, while the Mid-Atlantic States wintered about 3%. Today, winter distributions have changed substantially: The Chesapeake winters only about 60% and the Mid-Atlantic about 30% of the population. Reduced recruitment, competition from resident geese, and hunting pressures all appear to have contributed to declines in overall numbers of these birds.


The Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Region of Virginia has always supported large numbers of waterfowl. In the 1950s, some 250,000 canvasbacks, one-half of the continental population wintered in the extensive beds of SAV in the Chesapeake Bay . In recent years, wintering waterfowl populations have varied due to the abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), a preferred food source of many waterfowl. Important species include Northern pintails, black ducks, scaup, canvasbacks, and redheads. The region also supports breeding populations of wood ducks, black ducks, and mallards.


In the Southeastern Plains/Piedmont Region, the freshwater tidal marshes of the Rappahannock, Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and James Rivers winter more waterfowl than any other areas in Virginia, including black ducks, mallards, pintails, green-winged teal, wood ducks, and ring-necked ducks. The farmland adjacent to these rivers also supplies critical wintering and migration habitat for tundra swans and the Atlantic population of Canada geese. The riverine forested and emergent wetlands provide breeding habitat for wood ducks, black ducks, and mallards. The Roanoke and Chowan River systems contain seasonally flooded (bottomland hardwoods) and permanently flooded (bald cypress, tupelo gum) forested wetlands that provide breeding habitat for wood ducks as well as support large wintering populations of black ducks, mallards, and wood ducks.


Historically, the Appalachian Mountains Region has never supported the populations of waterfowl that are found in adjacent piedmont and coastal habitats. However, the region does support breeding populations of wood ducks, mallards, black ducks, and Canada geese. Breeding waterfowl use, and population size is regulated by, the numerous beaver ponds (<1 colonies/km 2 ) and man-made reservoirs that exist throughout the region. The region provides habitat for waterfowl during fall and spring migration, and winters large numbers of black ducks and mallards. The majority of wintering waterfowl are found in beaver ponds, local reservoirs, impoundments, and riverine wetlands. Once beaver ponds and reservoirs begin to freeze, waterfowl start utilizing the main stem of the major rivers in the region, including the Susquehanna, Potomac, Delaware, Ohio, and New Rivers.


Other Wildlife


Extensive estuarine marshes and rivers of the Southern Atlantic Coastal Plains Region are critical spawning areas for anadromous fishes in the Chesapeake Bay, supporting an annual industry of $900 million in Maryland alone. Coastal and inland wetlands provide critical habitats for waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds, as well as other wildlife. Bald eagles winter in the Delaware Bay marshes and forage in this area year-round. Pea Patch Island , located in Delaware Bay is the largest Atlantic coast heronry north of Florida. The Harbor Herons Complex, spread throughout the heavily industrialized Arthur Kill waterway in New Jersey, is a regionally significant rookery, supporting up to 25% of all nesting wading birds along the Atlantic coast from Cape May, New Jersey to Rhode Island.


The Cape May Peninsula and Cape Charles, Virginia, concentrate millions of songbirds, including at least 75 species of long-distance Neotropical species, migrating south along the Atlantic Coast in the fall. All types of natural habitats, including marshes, fields, successional habitat, and woods, are used by fall migrants, although woodlands adjacent to salt marshes seem to be particularly important. The remaining maritime forests at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay provide important stopover habitat for migratory birds.


The Appalachian Mountain Region supports some of the highest diversities of breeding Neotropical and temperate migratory songbirds in the U.S. Priority forest breeding bird species include Cerulean warblers, black-and-white warblers, wood thrushes, and eastern wood pewees. Priority early successional and grassland species include the golden-winged warblers, Henslow's sparrows and northern flickers.


The coastal and intertidal beaches of Virginia Beach and Back Bay provide important habitat for over 40 species of wintering, migrating, and breeding shorebirds, including the semipalmated sandpiper, red knot, American avocet, and endangered piping plover. Delaware Bay is a critical spring migratory stopover for many species and numbers of shorebirds. An estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million shorebirds pass through the Bay each spring. Delaware Bay was dedicated as one of only two Hemispheric Shorebird Reserves on the Atlantic Coast (the other being the Bay of Fundy in Maritime Canada), recognizing that the Bay supports more than 30% of the hemispheric population of shorebirds. In 1992, Delaware 's remaining coastal wetlands, from Woodland Beach to Cape Henlopen, were dedicated as a Wetland of International Importance under the RAMSAR Treaty.


Threats and Special Problems

Portions of the North and South Atlantic Coastal Plain are some of the most populous and heavily industrialized coastal areas in the world. Much of the upland and wetland shoreline of the major Atlantic bays and their watersheds have been developed, impaired, or degraded by industrial, commercial, and residential uses. Wetland losses have resulted from coastal impoundment and filling, dredging projects, and natural sea level rise. Urban development, including filling for roadway expansion, has resulted in substantial wetland loss (as much as 92% of losses in coastal New Jersey and 50% of losses in Virginia ). Ecological impacts from urban and suburban development include point and nonpoint source pollution, oil and chemical spills, recreational overcrowding, floatable materials, atmospheric fallout of pollutants, dredging and dredged material deposition, over harvesting of fishery resources, competition from exotic and invasive species, and destruction of essential natural habitats (USFWS 1997).


Development pressures have accelerated the rates of erosion along shorelines that have been stripped of vegetation. Estuaries between Connecticut and Virginia are home to more than 10,000 public recreation sites and 42% of all private marinas in the country. Boat wakes, from commercial and recreational craft, create waves that hasten shoreline wasting. Erosion of coastal islands may be a limiting factor for black duck restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay . High recreational potential has lead to increasing numbers of second home construction, with concomitant demands on water and water quality. The need for more roads to meet the expanding growth results in greater habitat loss and increased storm water runoff and nonpoint pollution from roadways. Fortification of shorelines leads to the loss of critical shorebird feeding and nesting areas and valuable wintering habitat for black ducks and other waterfowl. Wetland loss due to a rise in sea level may be exacerbated in areas of high population density, where shoreline developments will prevent the natural landward migration of coastal wetlands.


Despite development pressures, significant portions of the region remain in agricultural use. About a third of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay remains in agricultural use, and 42% of the Delaware Bay . However, nonpoint runoff, including pesticides and fertilizers, from these lands is significant, contributing to degradation of water quality in coastal waters. Additionally, sedimentation from agriculture and development activities upstream may be silting in many of the region's tidal wetlands.


In addition, significant wetland losses are attributable to conversion of non-tidal, forested wetlands to agriculture (USFWS 1988). All of the Atlantic states have enacted laws and regulations to protect coastal wetlands. However, protection of inland wetlands has not been as effective. For example, while losses of estuarine wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay region had been curtailed between 1982 and 1989, during the same period, freshwater wetlands (including important headwater swamps) were being lost at rates greater than experienced in the 1970s. While emergent and shrub/scrub wetlands in the Southern Plains/Piedmont Region have increased as beaver populations have expanded, seasonally flooded-forested wetlands are still being loss to highway construction, residential development, and forestry.


Loss of headwater forests and wet meadows increases the amounts of sediments, animal wastes, pesticides, and fertilizers washed off nearby developed areas and farms, which eventually settle into bays and estuaries. Excessive inputs of nutrients and sediments from surrounding watersheds have caused a drastic decline in the abundance of SAV throughout the Chesapeake and Albemarle-Pamlico Estuaries.


In the Appalachian Mountain the majority of riverine wetlands (forested, shrub/scrub) have been lost to agriculture, industry, and the construction of reservoirs. Although the majority of riverine wetlands have been lost (>70% in some states), wetlands created by beaver ponds have met or exceeded historical levels in many states. As beaver populations continue to expand, shrub/shrub and emergent wetlands will continue to increase in this region. However, contamination from heavy metals from upstream mining and milling operations has had serious impacts on the water quality of the region's rivers and downstream habitats. Additionally, the region's agriculture community supports large numbers of livestock and poultry that has contributed excess runoff of nutrients (N, P) and sediments to local streams.


Current Conservation Programs

Several of the larger estuarine systems have been recognized as resources of national significance. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuary Program, in coordination with other state and federal agencies, has developed comprehensive management documents to guide conservation efforts in the Delaware , Barnegat and Narragansett estuaries. In this Waterfowl Conservation Region, DU's major efforts include programs in Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, the New Jersey coast and Long Island.


DU's Chesapeake Bay Program was started in 1997 in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Through this program, DU is restoring wetlands and associated uplands on private land in PA, MD, and VA by plugging drainage ditches, shallow excavations, and building low-level dikes in marginal cropland and pastures. The Program encourages landowners to improve water quality by primarily restoring wetlands but also by fencing livestock out of streams, installing stream crossings and alternative watering systems, and restoring riparian habitat. These conservation practices will not only improve waterfowl habitat on participating properties, but also improve habitat conditions (SAV) in the Bay by removing excess nutrients and sediments. DU is also working with the USDA through the Wetlands Reserve and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs as well as the USFWS's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to restore critical habitat for migratory birds and wetland dependent species on private lands in the watershed.

In the Delaware Bay , the predominant landscape use throughout the watershed is agriculture; hence current program delivery is focused on private lands. The conservation focus is on habitat restoration and improvements in the lower watershed and coastal marshes and key sub-watersheds that influence water quality in the bay. Breeding programs in the northern watershed are focused on habitat for mallards, black ducks, and wood ducks. Habitat conservation activities in the southern portion of the watershed are focused on wintering and spring staging habitat. Habitat Stewardship programs will concentrate on restoring wetland hydrology to sites by plugging drainage ditches, constructing low-level berms, creating shallow excavated areas, and installing water control structures. Riparian upland buffers will be restored to native grasses, trees, shrubs, and other habitat components. Water quality in the Bay will be improved by restoring wetlands and uplands across the watershed. These restoration practices will eventually contribute to the restoration of SAV beds throughout the Bay.

On Long Island , restoration efforts have evolved from ditch plugging to integrated marsh management. This approach emphasizes restoring hydrology with multiple approaches to improving degraded marsh systems, food resources, and habitat for waterfowl and other coastal marsh dependent species. Conservation activities include filling ditches to restore hydrologic regimes on the marsh, which will hold water and encourage rejuvenation of high and low marsh vegetative communities. In some instances, scouring of pannes and ponds and restoring tidal channels to sinuous creeks are a component of restoring more natural habitat mosaics. A secondary focus on Long Island should be Phragmites control. New York State has begun an aggressive approach toward invasive species and a Marine task force has identified Phragmites as the number one problem on Long Island

In New Jersey, coastal marshes are relatively healthy. In addition to providing migratory and wintering habitat, New Jersey coastal areas may also be important for breeding mallards and black ducks. The coastal marshes of New Jersey have great potential to impact significant numbers of waterfowl and other birds. Within New Jersey, DU's focus has been mostly on the Delaware Bay watershed, however opportunities exist to be much more involved in the coastal area, particularly in engineering, design and delivery.



  • Restore and protect ecological functions and values of coastal watersheds by striving to restore an intact, functioning coastal wetland system including intertidal bays with submerged aquatic vegetation, mud flats, low and high marsh habitat, and buffers.
  • Work to ensure long-term protection of already enhanced/restored areas
  • Concentrate conservation activities within targeted watersheds to restore buffers, via wetland restoration, to provide clean water
  • Provide technical assistance and landowner education
  • Identify and prioritize key research and evaluation needs.
  • Establish outreach programs to educate the public on the importance of DU's wetland enhancement programs, wetland values and a healthy environment


  • By restoring wetlands and riparian zones, this initiative will provide onsite and downstream water quality benefits, which will aid in the recovery of SAV.
  • Recovery of SAV will enable an increase in wintering waterfowl numbers.
  • Habitat programs (wetland, grass and riparian restoration) that provide water quality benefits also provide waterfowl breeding habitat.
  • Restorations designed for fall migrants will also benefit spring migrants and restorations designed for breeding waterfowl will also benefit spring migrants.
  • Restoring tidal hydrology, via ditch plugging, restores function and habitat value to coastal marshes
  • Restoration work in the headwaters will improve habitat by improving water quality in the coastal marshes
  • Restoration of coastal habitat will improve survival of wintering waterfowl or increase carrying capacity
  • Coastal restoration activities designed for migratory or wintering waterfowl will also benefit breeding waterfowl.
  • Waterfowl habitat in this area will continue to be loss due to development pressure.



  • Restore wetlands and associated grasslands on private land, utilizing Farm Bill Programs such as WRP, CRP and CREP, DU Private Lands Programs (in partnership with the state and federal agencies), and NAWCA and other partnership grants.
  • Develop restoration and management systems that emulate natural hydrological conditions, to the best extent possible.
  • Maximize migration and wintering capacity through the protection of habitats that are vulnerable to loss through acquisition, conservation easement or long-term management agreements through cooperative land protection programs. Expand DU's conservation easement program.
  • Increase public awareness of DU's programs and the benefits to wetlands they provide by developing public outreach plans for regional conservation programs.
  • Restore wetlands and associated grasslands on public land. Incorporate management capability into these restored wetlands to maximize wetland productivity for waterfowl and other wetland wildlife.
  • Expand wetland conservation programs to watershed or landscape levels - targeting water quality as a major issue/benefit.
  • Work with partners to bring wetland function back to key landscape areas (e.g., conversion of salt hay to cordgrass marsh along the coast, conversion of drained agricultural land to wetland/grassland in the Delaware Bayshore).

Region 23 - NABCI Bird Conservation Regions 27, 28, 29 and 30 (New England/Mid-Atlantic Coast, Appalachian Mountains, Piedmont , Southeastern Coastal Plain)

January 27, 2005 - Region 23

      Updated the region description and current conservation programs

      Revised goals, assumptions and strategies