Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Refuge Manager
Mason Neck
National Wildlife Refuge
14416 Jefferson Davis Highway
Suite 20A
Woodbridge, Virginia 22191
Phone: (703) 690-1297

Eighteen miles south of Washington, D.C., on the banks of the Potomac River, lies an 8,000-acre peninsula known as Mason Neck. Here on February 1,1969, the first National Wildlife Refuge specifically established for the endangered bald eagle was created.

Today the 2,277-acre refuge encompasses approximately 2,000 acres of mature hardwood forest, the largest freshwater marsh in northern Virginia, and nearly six miles of shoreline. Because of this unique blend of habitat, Mason Neck supports a diversity of wildlife throughout the year.


The recorded history of Mason Neck began around 1755 with the construction of nearby Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. Mason was an author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, predecessor to the United States Bill of Rights.

Mason Neck NWR
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During the 1800's and early 1900's, logging was the principle land use of what is now refuge lands. Roads were cut and much of the mature pine and hardwood timber removed. This human disturbance and the elimination of nest trees reduced the bald eagle population.

By the 1960's, timber had grown back but residential development posed a new threat. Local residents worked with The Nature Conservancy to protect the land. In 1969, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased 845 acres from the Conservancy and the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge was established.


The refuge, the Mason Neck State Park, the Northern Virginia Park Authority, the Gunston Hall Plantation, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are cooperating in the management of their combined 5,000+ acres on the Mason Neck peninsula. This cooperation provides a wide variety of recreational activities while protecting the natural resources.

The primary objective of Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is to protect essential nesting, feeding, and roosting habitat for bald eagles.

The refuge also enhances species diversity by managing habitat for a variety of wildlife, from tree frogs to great blue herons. Managing one of the largest great blue heron rookeries in Virginia includes protecting the nesting birds from human disturbance. Wood ducks, screech owls, and bluebirds are provided with nesting boxes to supplement natural cavities. Management of migratory and wintering waterfowl is done by providing native food plants, by monitoring flock sizes and by assessing habitat use.

The refuge is managed for wildlife-oriented recreation as well. The trails provide an outstanding opportunity to watch wildlife. Through education and cooperation, both people and wildlife can benefit from management on Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

Visitor Opportunities

The Refuge is opened daily from dawn to dusk.

Woodmarsh Trail - Loops through a hardwood forest, carpets of ferns, over small streams, and along a marsh for a round trip of three miles. An observation platform overlooks a beaver dam.

Great Marsh Trail - Winds for three-quarters of a mile along a natural peninsula, ending with a sweeping view of the Great Marsh. This overlook provides the best opportunity to see eagles. Partially handicap accessible.

Public Programs - Interpretive hikes and programs are sponsored on the Refuge throughout the year.

Environmental Education - An educational pavilion and adjacent fields and trails are available for use by organized groups on a reservation basis.

Photography Blind - Located overlooking Raccoon Creek Swamp. Advance permits are required. For additional information write or call the refuge office.

Wildlife Calendar

January and February - Resident bald eagles rebuild nests and lay eggs in February. Wintering eagles commonly feed in Great Marsh. Open water freezes, concentrating diving ducks in deeper sections of the river. Deer shed their antlers.

March - Resident eagles incubate their eggs. Most waterfowl have migrated north. Wood ducks take up residence in nest boxes and natural cavities. Beavers begin rebuilding dams and lodges. Woodland ponds become laced with frog and salamander eggs.

April - Eaglets hatch. Great blue heron courtship and nesting activity peaks in the rookery. Spring wildflowers fill the woods. Teal pass through on northward migration. Deer grow new antlers.

May - Broods of wood ducks, black ducks, and Canada geese feed along the creeks and marsh. Songbird migration peaks early in the month with many pairs staying to nest. Mountain laurel brightens the hillsides. White-tailed deer give birth to their fawns.

June - Eaglets fledge. Turtle nesting season peaks. Spatterdock, arrowhead, and wild rice flourish in the marsh. Muskrats repopulate the marsh, producing the first of several litters for the year.

July - Young great blue herons learn to fish in the marsh. Local goslings (young geese) and ducklings start to fly. Swallows, kingbirds, and flycatchers feast on the abundant insects.

August - Adult bald eagles leave Mason Neck after the young fledge. Immatures from the surrounding area arrive. Shore and wading birds increase in numbers. Marsh hibiscus (mallow) blooms in the marsh.

September - Puddle ducks (teal, mallards, black ducks) arrive on their southward journey. Egret and heron numbers increase until cold weather pushes them south. Songbird and raptor migration peaks late in the month.

October - Eagles that nested in the north arrive to spend the winter. Autumn leaves fill the woods with color.

November and December - Resident eagles begin courtship and breeding. Wintering eagles are visible feeding in the marsh and flying to and from the roost. The influx of diving ducks swells the winter waterfowl population. Breeding season for deer begins.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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