New Jersey is one of the most densely populated US states. The state is known for its suburbs, factories, and sprawling urban centers. When most people think of tourism or vacations in New Jersey, seaside tourist towns like Atlantic City probably come to mind. However, perhaps one of the least known but highly rewarding activities you can engage in if you’re in the Garden State is birdwatching. A visit to some of New Jersey’s best bird watching spots will yield interesting discoveries.
At least 230 bird species are present in New Jersey. Despite being a highly populated urban center, the state still offers a rewarding array of natural areas with various habitats. Different parts of the state offer their own unique habitat type. In Delaware Bay, for instance, there are extensive marshes. The central part of New Jersey is popular for its pine-hardwood forest, while the north has extensive areas of grasslands. All of these habitats host different types of birds during various seasons of the year. The following are some of New Jersey’s best birdwatching spots you should check out.
It’s impossible to talk about birding in New Jersey without mentioning Cape May. Every avid birder knows this is the birding capital of New Jersey and arguably the entire nation’s. Cape May is one of the most important habitats for migratory birds on their northbound and southbound journeys through the Atlantic flyway.
The Cape May Bird Refuge, Cape May State Park, and the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area are three protected areas that birders often visit. Cape May sees thousands of raptors pass through its borders every year. Hawk watching is particularly popular during their migratory season. The Cape May Bird Observatory is a great place to learn all about birding in New Jersey.
Common birds to watch out for in Cape May
- Purple Martins
- Blue Grosbeak
- Indigo Bunting
- Hawks and other raptors
Sandy Hook (Gateway National Recreation Area)
Sandy Hook is one of the most popular summer beach destinations in New Jersey. However, one well-kept secret about this location is that it is also one of New Jersey’s most productive birding destinations. Located just six miles off the New Jersey coast, this narrow peninsula has a wide variety of habitats that supports a good diversity of nesting and migrating birds.
A 2040-acre National Recreation Area is located here. The narrow “hook” is a great stopover point for various migratory birds. More than 340 species of birds have been identified at Sandyhook, and you can see at least 280 species annually. Several migrants will likely be pushed to this thin strip of land if the winds are right. Visitors can explore the flat and sandy terrain to find the favorite congregation spots of the different bird species here. Sandy Hook’s salt ponds are fast becoming one of the best birding opportunities that birders love to visit when they’re at the recreation area.
Common birds to watch out for at Sandy Hook
- Northern Harrier
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- American Kestrel
- Peregrine Falcon
- Northern Goshawk
- Northern Gannet
- Great Cormorant
Island Beach State Park
The Island Beach State park is built on a 10 miles long narrow barrier island nested between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This location is characterized by sandy beaches, marshes, and sand dunes that serve as home to diverse wildlife species, including numerous bird species. The park itself is a 3000 acres of undeveloped land, making it one of New Jersey’s finest natural areas and one of the best bird-watching spots in the state.
The beaches and marshes of the Island Beach State Park are great feeding and nesting locations for different shore birds. Migrating songbirds and raptors also visit the Island, while waterfowls are quite frequent in the coastal marsh and wetlands. The Island Beach area has several great observation spots and walking trails from which you can get a close look at the different birds the park offers.
Common birds to watch out for at the Island Beach State Park
- Great Cormorant
- Northern Garnet
- Tricolored Heron
- Brown Pelican
- American Oystercatcher
- Least Tern
- Piping Plover
- Saltmarsh Sparrow
- Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron
- Clapper Rail
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest protected areas in New Jersey, covering over 48,000 acres of land in the Southern New Jersey area. The area mostly consists of marshlands. However, there are a few bays and shallow covers here as well. The refuge is one of the most active flight paths of the Atlantic Flyway, making it one of the best birding destinations in New Jersey and on the Atlantic coast.
The abundance of salt marshes makes this location a great habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. More than 30 species of ducks, geese, and swans have been recorded in this protected area, and over 300 species of birds are seen in the refuge. In addition to the migratory richness of this location, a few nesting bird species call the refuge and its nearby areas. Visitors often prefer to take a drive around the refuge to explore it. However, there are several hiking trails where you can also explore the different habitats in this area.
Common birds to watch out for at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
- Least Bittern
- Bald Eagle
- Saltmarsh Sparrow
- Roseate Spoonbill
- Black Skimmer
- Spotted Redshank
- Curlew Sandpiper.
In addition, a few other great locations to spot birds in New Jersey include the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, High Point State Park, Stokes State Forest, Clinton Wildlife Management Area, and Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. When the weather is right, New Jersey’s best bird watching spots are alive with different unique bird species. You will surely enjoy a birding adventure at any of these great locations that also offer other interesting activities.
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