Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Northeast Region
2145 Key Wallace Dr
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-2677

Mammals at the Refuge

Delmarva fox squirrel. Credit: Mary Konchar

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Dorchester County, Maryland, about 12 miles south of Cambridge. Established in 1933, the Refuge consists of approximately 27,000 acres of brackish marsh, freshwater ponds, and brushy and timbered swamps. The wooded areas are predominately loblolly pine and mast producing hardwoods; three-square bulrush is the dominant vegetation in the marsh. Although the mammals of Blackwater are often overlooked in favor of the more abundant and conspicuous bird life, the Refuge hosts a wide variety of mammals. View a brochure (512KB PDF) highlighting the mammals of Blackwater NWR.

One species worthy of special note is the large, grizzled-gray Delmarva fox squirrel. Currently listed as an endangered species, this squirrel is found at only a few localities on the Eastern Shore, with Blackwater Refuge hosting the largest natural population. Forest management programs at Blackwater are oriented toward perpetuation of this handsome squirrel, and visitors wishing to catch a glimpse of this sometimes elusive mammal are advised to look carefully in the woods bordering the Wildlife Drive.

Sika deer. Credit: Sid Keiser

One unusual resident of the Refuge is the sika deer, which is actually a species of elk that originates in Japan, Taiwan and eastern Asia, and was introduced onto James Island in the Chesapeake Bay about 1916. Sika deer prefer the more secluded areas of the Refuge, but they are quite common in southern Dorchester County. Sika are smaller and darker than the white-tailed deer, often retaining their spots as an adult. Visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website to learn more about sika deer in the state.

Nutria is another non-native mammal with ties to Blackwater, but the nutria are no longer found at the Refuge. A nutria is a large aquatic rodent introduced from South America. The mammals were brought into Maryland in the 1940's for use on fur farms but eventually they reached the wild where they adapted to the climate of Blackwater Refuge. The nutria population began to compete with the native muskrat and waterfowl populations for habitat resources, and eventually the nutrias' feeding habits caused such extensive damage to Refuge wetlands that local, state, and federal authorities coordinated their efforts to effectively remove nutria from Blackwater Refuge. Visit the Nutria section of this website for more information about the ongoing efforts to keep nutria off of Refuge property.

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Last updated: October 7, 2010