Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary is the only wildlife sanctuary operated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It is the wintering ground for several thousand Canada geese, the largest concentration on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
The sanctuary was named after Edgar Merkle (1900-1984), an active conservationist who devoted much of his life to protecting and providing for wildlife. Many knew him as the founder of Merkle Press in Washington, D.C. (1936), and others knew him as the originator of a goose breeding plan to introduce Canada geese to the western shores of Maryland (1932). Starting with a handful of breeding pairs, a great deal of perseverance, and a habitat improvement plan in mind, Mr. Merkle eventually encouraged thousands of geese to visit the 400-acre Merkle farm to feed and rest. In 1970, the Merkles sold their land, including some donated parcles, to the state. With the acquisition of adjoining tracts, the wildlife refuge now encompasses 1,670 acres.
The geese arrive in mid-October and stay until late February or early March. About 100 geese stay year round. During the peak of the season, more than 5,000 geese may be present. Corn, millet and other crops favored by geese are grown for them, adding to the marsh and aquatic plants that flourish in the ponds and along the Patuxent River.
The sanctuary also offers habitats for a variety of birds and mammals. White tail deer are prominent at the sanctuary, especially during the winter. Red fox and skunk make their homes here at the sanctuary as well. In the summer, osprey nest close to the Visitor Center and hummingbirds, finches and purple martins are abundant. In the neighboring ponds, visitors are likely to see a great blue heron stalking its prey or the splash of a large mouth bass chasing after its dinner. You may also see a blue bird scurrying to find grass for its nest or baby wood ducks jumping from their nests for the first time.