Small blue bird on a branch.

Unquestionably Delaware’s single best-known birding site, Bombay Hook justifies its fame with exceptional bird and wildlife viewing throughout the year. Centered along the Wildlife Drive, an auto tour loop road that traverses a cornucopia of habitats, including freshwater impoundments, salt marshes, mudflats, woodlands, and fields, Bombay Hook also features 3 observation towers and 5 short walking trails.

Bird Checklist (pdf)
eBird Trail Tracker Bird Sighting List
Statewide List Serve for Delaware Bird Sightings

Refuge Closure Dates for Hunting

You should plan an absolute minimum of two hours for a visit here; four is much better, and you could easily make multiple trips over several days before really getting a feel for the varying diurnal and tidal rhythms.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1937 as a refuge and breeding ground for migrating birds and other wildlife. It currently comprises 16,251 acres of land, with about 80% being tidal salt marsh. The Refuge is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset.

There is an entry fee of $4.00 per car or motorcycle or $2.00 per bicycle or hiker. Holders of a valid Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (often called the “Duck Stamp”) enter free. Purchasing these stamps is an easy way for birders and other wildlife watchers to contribute to habitat acquisition. Holders of Bombay Hook Refuge Passes and Federal Interagency Passes also are admitted free. For complete information on passes and user fees, please visit the web site or call the visitor center.

Visitor Center

Open fields and plantings attractive to wildlife surround the Visitor Center, and is landscaped with native plant garden maintained by volunteers. Inside, you’ll find useful birding information, a nature-oriented book shop, and helpful staff and volunteers. A visitor-maintained bird sighting log, found on a clipboard near the rest room doors, is worth checking – remember to add your own observations when you leave. The Visitor Center also has Ebird Trail Tracker which is an computer based sightings list and includes identification photographs, bird calls, and information about local species.

At the Visitor Center, pick up a copy of the Auto Tour pamphlet, which includes a detailed map and much useful information. Also pick up a refuge bird checklist which summarizes the species and their occurrence on the refuge. Depending on your interests, you also may want to pick up checklists for mammals, reptiles and amphibians, trees and shrubs, or wildflowers.

Raymond Pool Tower and Walking Trail
As you follow Wildlife Drive and the auto tour loop, your first stop probably will be a walking trail (3/10th mile round trip) on the left side of the road that leads to a 30 foot observation tower overlooking Raymond Pool. From this vantage point you can get a panoramic view of this 95 acre freshwater impoundment.

Boardwalk Trail

Just a few hundred yards beyond the Raymond Tower parking lot is the Boardwalk Trail, which enters through the woods on the right side of the road. The trail is handicapped accessible and covers about ½ mile roundtrip. The woods at the beginning (and end) of the Boardwalk Trail can be particularly good for migrant songbirds, especially in April, May, and mid-August through early November. The trail itself is a great place to see breeding march wrens and seaside sparrows, and to listen for clapper and Virginia rails. At the far end of the trail, you get a great view of the tidal salt marsh and Raymond Gut, the tidal stream running along its edge (look for fiddler crabs along the banks).

Raymond Pool

Your next stop will be at Raymond Pool. The best birding is usually found along the long, straight stretch of Wildlife Drive that borders the northeast edge of the pool, beginning about 1 mile from the Visitor Center. Note that along Raymond Pool, as in most of the refuge, Wildlife Drive is built on a dike the divides the freshwater impoundments from the tidal salt marsh.

Raymond Pool is the single most reliable spot in Delaware to find American avocets (spring and late summer – early winter are best) and is often loaded with other shorebirds and waterfowl during spring and fall migrations. Lighting here is most favorable in the morning. The number of shorebirds here, even at peak migration periods, can vary dramatically over the course of the day, with many birds departing Raymond to feed on the bayshore and in tidal marshes when suitable flats are exposed, then returning when the marsh is submerged, so a revisit to Raymond 4 to 6 hours later may yield different specie and numbers.

Shearness Pool

The largest impoundment at the refuge covering 560 acres, Shearness Pool hosts a great variety of waterbirds, as does the open area of salt marsh to its east, called Leatherberry Flats. In the colder months, many species of dabbling ducks – mallards, American black ducks, northern pintails, northern shovelers, blue-winged and green-winged teals, and occasionally gadwalls and American wigeon – can been seen in Shearness Pool. In fall and winter Shearness also attracts migrating Canada geese and tundra swans, while ruddy ducks and buffleheads dive in the deeper waters in the Pool and in the tidal steams of the salt marsh.

The snow goose spectacle here from late October into midwinter is often stunning as multiple flocks circle and land on the impoundment and marsh. The tens of thousands of snow geese that descend on the refuge each fall have stripped vegetation from what once was a cordgrass meadow on Leatherberry Flats, but which now can appear either as a huge brackish pool or a vast mud flat, depending on the tide.

American bald eagles also are frequently seen here in all seasons.

Parson Point Trail

The longest trail on the refuge, covering 1 mile roundtrip, takes you through a mix of habitats and wildlife species. In the spring and fall, wood warblers can be found in the forested area, turtles in the small pond, and possible a five-lined skink on a fallen tree. From March through June these rich, moist woods are adorned with wildflowers – Jack-in-the-pulpit, may-apple, toothwort, spring beauty, bloodroot, wild strawberry, and violets. Lady ferns and New York ferns are most common along this trail, but sensitive and royal ferns also grow here.

Bear Swamp Trail

Bear Swamp Trail, a 3/10 mile round trip loop trail through the woods boarding Bear Swamp Pool, leads to a thirty-foot observation tower and a floating dock (the trail and the floating dock are handicapped accessible). This is a good place to see forest birds – wood thrush, downy and red-bellied wood peckers, northern flickers, and during spring and fall, several species of warblers. Great horned owls, barred owls, and eastern screech owls frequent these woods but are seldom seen.

Bear Swamp Pool

Bear Swamp is a 240 acre freshwater impoundment that is a magnet for tall wading birds in the summer. Great blue, little blue, and tricolor heron, great and snowy egrets, black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons, and glossy ibis flock here. 

Bear Swamp Pool has a mix of habitats attractive to a variety of wildlife, including mud flats and muddy islets, small grassy islands, areas of deeper water, and shorelines that vary from marshy grasses to woods, creating ideal nesting sites for pied-billed grebes, common moorhens, blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, least bittern, and black-necked stilts.

Finis Pool

Finis Pool presents a very different face of Bombay Hook – a smaller, 205 acre freshwater pond with a luxuriant growth of aquatic plants, surrounded by tall deciduous woods. While birds are not as conspicuous here as elsewhere on the refuge, a stop here adds diversity. Egrets, herons, wood ducks, and prothonotary warblers all are regular here, and patient searching might reveal a least bittern or wood ducks.

The woods ahead are favored by bird watchers who look here for wood warblers in the spring, and scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and great crested flycatchers in the summer.

Wildlife Drive to the Allee House

The Allee House currently is closed to the public, but the Auto Tour route to it passes Big Woods Pond and open fields with woods in the background. This is a good place to look for bluebirds, blue grosbeaks, and meadow larks. A bald eagles nest is located in woods across the fields looking toward the west at the end of the drive.

Shearness Pool Tower and Walking Trail

Located as you follow exit signs on your way to the Visitor Center, Shearness Trail (just under 3/10 mile) leads to a thirty foot observation tower overlooking Shearness Pool. The tower offers an outstanding view of Shearness, our largest freshwater impoundment.

Directions to the Visitor Center

From Route 1 near Smyrna, take exit 114 (Smyrna-South exit). At the end of the ramp turn right (N) at the traffic light onto Route 13 North. Turn right (E) at the next light unto Road 12 (Smyrna-Leipsic Road). This road merges with Route 9 South in just under 5 miles. Immediately after joining Route 9, turn left (E) onto Whitehall Neck Road which ends in 2.5 miles at the refuge headquarters area.

Directions for the Auto Tour

The Auto Tour begins and ends at the Visitor Center (mileages are total from there): From the Visitor Center, turn left (E) out of the parking lot. At the “T” intersection (0.1 miles), follow the tour loop to the right around Raymond Pool, passing the observation tower and Boardwalk Trail before paralleling the Pool’s edge. The road then makes a “T”, (1.6 miles). A left here will return you to the Visitor Center; a right parallels the northeast face at the eastern extent of Shearness Pool (1.7 – 3.0 miles). Beyond Shearness, turn right (E) to circle Bear Swamp Pool (3.3 – 5.4 miles). At 5.4 miles the Bear Swamp loop rejoins the read from Shearness. Turn right (W) then left (S) at 5.5 miles to reach Finis Pool (6.4 miles). Turn around and go back to the “T” intersection. Turn left toward the Allee House. At the Allee House turn around and follow the exit signs to return to the Visitor Center.