Eastern Neck NWR occupies Eastern Neck Island at the mouth of the Chester River on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore. The refuge is important for migratory and wintering waterfowl, which use the numerous coves and inlets for foraging and resting. The refuge also contains areas of deciduous forest and agricultural crops cultivated as forage for wintering waterfowl.
Eastern Neck NWR is a Global IBA for the Tundra Swan. More than 2,000 swans, just over 1% of the global population of Tundra Swan, spend the early part of winter at the refuge, feeding on submerged vegetation and clams. Many of these stay at the refuge throughout the winter, while some continue to wintering grounds in North Carolina. 35,000 waterfowl of other species also winter here, including: 7,000 Canada Goose, 11,600 scaup sp., 3,600 Canvasback, 7,000 Ruddy Duck, 7,600 Mallard and 1,000 Black Duck. Black Duck winter in numbers of continental significance.
The principal conservation challenges at Eastern Neck are posed by exotic species and damaging fishing methods. Much of the emergent wetlands fringing the island are dominated by Phragmites, an introduced reed species that displaces native wetland vegetation. The extent of Phragmites has been mapped and eradication efforts are underway. Introduced Mute Swans damage submerged aquatic vegetation by their year-round foraging and are also targets of control. Hydraulic dredging for clams in the shallow waters surrounding Eastern Neck Island damages SAVs not only by physical disturbance of the bay bottom but also by producing excessive turbidity which prevents light reaching the submerged plants.
Eastern Neck NWR is owned and managed by the National Wildlife Refuge System of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The most extensive habitat at Eastern Neck is the tidal marshes, which are dominated by an invasive plant, Phragmites. The upland areas of the island are a patchwork of mixed deciduous/coniferous forest and agricultural fields where row crops and grains are cultivated for wintering waterfowl. The open water surrounding the island is shallow with depths of only 1m extending upto 1km from land. The submerged aquatic vegetation in these waters declined greatly upto the 1990s but is now once again expanding.