Plenty of bird species to admire in New Jersey this winter
🐦Winter bird watching is a great way to enjoy outdoors this winter
🐦New Jersey has many species of wintering birds
🐦Waterfowl, songbirds, and birds of prey are the most common
Even though we are in the thick of winter here in New Jersey, it’s so important to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer.
Bird watching is a popular hobby among New Jerseyans, and there are plenty of bird species to admire this winter in the state.
About 224 bird species were recorded in New Jersey this year, said Scott Barnes, a senior naturalist for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory.
“A big part of that is the diverse range of habitats packed into our small state from the Kittatinny Mountains and forests in the northwest through woodlands and agricultural areas to coastal wetlands and the open ocean/offshore waters,” Barnes said.
That being said, there are plenty of winter bird species around in New Jersey. Many people think birds automatically fly south for the winter, but that’s not true for all of them, he said. Some will leave, but other species that nest north of us in Canada and across the Arctic will winter in New Jersey.
It’s not always the cold that sends birds packing for the warmer climates, but lack of food here, Barnes said. Some birds are risk-takers. If they stay north, then they have access to the best nesting sites and mates in the breeding rounds. But if they fail, they die, he explained.
If warmer winters are here to stay in New Jersey, we may see more of these smaller songbirds that typically would migrate south. But it’s a risky gamble that might be good for the species as a whole, but not good for the individual birds, Barnes said.
Some birds can be tough, but if New Jersey has frigid temperatures night after night after night, that can kill the bird. But if the cold snap is short, the birds can most likely weather it, and stay put, he said.
New Jersey’s Winter Birds
Bird watchers tend to focus on waterfowl and birds of prey in the wintertime here in New Jersey, as well as small songbirds and year-round residents, Barnes said.
To watch birds, you can do a variety of things like set up birdfeeders in a backyard to see a variety of common woodland or suburban species. You can also take excursions to coastal places, which shine in the wintertime, he said.
One standout place for birding is Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The inlet is a great place to see a variety of arctic nesting ducks and loons.
“Probably the signature species at Barnegat Light that people go to look for is the Harlequin Duck. It’s a beautiful, small duck, that has all these blues and rough colors with white and black stripes on them, and they really prefer to live in swift-moving water around rocks and jetties, and things like that,” Barnes said.
Barnegat Light has a flock of about three dozen Harlequin ducks that are resident there from November and through the winter.
The ducks don’t leave their wintering grounds in coastal New Jersey until the first week in April to migrate north to where they are going to nest, Barnes explained.
Common loons can often be seen near the Manasquan Inlet, as well as red-throated loons,surf scoters, black scoters, and flocks of eider, hearty winter ducks that like to spend time there.
Coastal marshes and inland places where there are wetlands and upland meadows and fields can be good for a variety of raptors.
Those include red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, and some scarcer birds like the rough-legged hawk, Barnes said.
Red-shouldered hawks and American kestrels which are small falcons can be seen inland, as well.
“Another really cool spectacle that we have here in the winter are massive flocks of snow geese that spend time around mostly Warren County. They like the area around Merrill Creek Reservoir, and around Alpha and Pohatcong, the very end of Route 78 just before you get into Pennsylvania. Those flocks of snow geese sometimes number probably 10,000 or more,” Barnes said.
It's an amazing sight to see them take flight, especially with their white bodies and black-tipped wings in the sky. They are loud, he warned, but the sight is majestic.
Barnes also noted that in the last 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of wintering Baltimore Oriole birds in New Jersey.
It used to be that every once in a while you’d see a couple grabbing a meal at a backyard feeder.
“But now, I know someone in Cape May who has a flock visiting their feeders in their yard, where the flock is a double-digit number of Baltimore Orioles. That would have been unheard of years and years ago, but it’s becoming less unusual,” Barnes said.
Be on the lookout for the Baltimore Oriole. It is a member of the blackbird family, Barnes said. It is a chunky songbird with a sharp, pointed dark bill. The males have a very black head a mostly orange body, and black wings. With the females, their coloring is more muted. Instead of having a jet black head and a bright orange body, they have more yellowish colors to them, and the black is more like a grey, instead.
It’s a fairly common bird here in New Jersey from May through September. They will nest in suburban yards. They like big oak and tulip trees where they build an orb-like nest that hangs from outer branches.
There are so many bird species wintering here in New Jersey. So, get outside, and find them. Just remember, whether you're watching them feast in your backyard birdfeeder, or admiring them in flight, give them their space and don’t disturb them in their natural habitats.
LOOK: Most commonly seen birds in New Jersey
Gallery Credit: Stacker