Contrary to popular belief, New Jersey offers amazing opportunities to see and (ethically) photograph some of North America’s most beautiful bird species, from up north in the Meadowlands to down south in Cape May.
The rare bird alerts, eBird database, social media groups, and countless bird clubs serve as resources to help get beginning birders out into the Garden State, embracing their inner bird nerd.
Birding is an interesting way to explore nature and also to take better care of yourself. It helps to keep us present and mindful. Looking for a particular bird, in a particular spot, at a particular time gives us the space to free ourselves of our worries and focus on being present in the outdoors.
Now is a great time to go birding! Fall migration has begun.
Here’s a few of the best spots to get started:
Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook)
A barrier island carved out in Monmouth County, Sandy Hook boasts a number of different habitats: ocean beach, coastal marsh, bay, maritime forest, among others. This unique array of areas brings with it a large diversity of birds!
A few spots to check out:
- Plum Island
- the Spermaceti Cove boardwalk
- The Horseshoe Cove salt marsh
- North Pond
- The fields at the main post area
- Fisherman’s Path on North Beach.
Depending on the season, you could see: Piping Plovers, Ospreys, American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Northern Gannets, terns, gulls, kinglets, wrens, herons, egrets, other songbirds, waterfowl, raptors: Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Merlins, and more.
National Geographic lists Cape May as a World’s Best destination for birding. The narrow peninsula at Cape May acts as a bird funnel, bringing in songbirds during their spring and fall migrations. You never know what you may find! And it’s just as fun to visit in the winter.
A few spots to check out:
- Belleplain State Forest
- Cox Hall Wildlife Management Area
- Cape May Point State Park
- Cape May Bird Observatory
Depending on the season, you could see: Purple Martins, Killdeer, kingbirds, orioles, herons, warblers, swans, scoters, egrets, Ospreys, terns, gulls, other songbirds, swallows, wrens, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, flycatchers, Blue Grosbeak + Indigo Bunting, raptors, and more.
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (Basking Ridge)
Nestled in Morris County, Great Swamp is an absolutely beautiful birding spot. Here, you can walk along boardwalks enveloped by trees and surrounded by the sounds of the swamp. The refuge consists of 7,768 acres of varied habitats, and the refuge has become an important resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds.
Fox, deer, muskrat, turtles, fish, frogs and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants can be found on the refuge too. You can also check out The Raptor Trust during your trip, a wild bird rehabilitation center with resident raptors that you can visit.
Depending on the season, you could see: Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, warblers, nuthatches, other songbirds, herons, egrets, kingfishers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, swallows, and more.
The Meadowlands (Bergen, Hudson counties)
The Meadowlands is a breathtaking spot consisting of 8,400 acres of wetlands stretched along the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, near Newark Bay: a real gem in the urbanized area of North Jersey! Bergen County Audubon Society leads free walks throughout the Meadowlands all year long.
Hackensack Riverkeeper also runs pontoon boat tours occasionally from River Barge Park (read the wrapup from our meetup there — we had an amazing time birdwatching!). There is no better way to see the Meadowlands than by boat!
A few spots to check out:
- Teaneck Creek Conservancy
- Mill Creek Marsh (a great place for kayaking, too!)
- Richard W. DeKorte Park
- River Barge Park (we went pontooning here!)
Depending on the season, you could see: egrets, herons, goldfinches, rails, bitterns, osprey, terns, swallows, waterfowl, raptors, wrens, gulls, sparrows, other songbirds, shorebirds, and more.
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Galloway)
Arguably, if you visit any birding spot in New Jersey, it should be Forysthe NWR, known as “Brig” to birders. Located in Atlantic County, every day is an incredible birding day at Brig. You could see upwards of 70 different types of bird species in one visit.
The refuge is made up of over 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats, actively managed for migratory birds. The refuge’s location is in one of the Atlantic Flyway’s most active flight paths and makes it an important link in seasonal bird migration.
You can also bird by car here, driving along Wildlife Drive throughout the refuge.
Depending on the season, you could see: egrets, herons, rails, bitterns, osprey, terns, swallows, waterfowl, raptors, wrens, gulls, sparrows, other songbirds, shorebirds, and more.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Sussex, Warren Counties)
You may have hiked the red and blue dot trails of Mount Tammany, but have you birded the Water Gap? The interesting landscapes and landforms throughout the Gap provide great habitat for a variety of birds.
Over 260 species have been identified throughout the National Recreation Area, utilizing the river and stream corridors, as well as, the forests, ridges, ravines, fields, and grasslands of the Water Gap.
A few spots to check out:
Depending on the season, you could see: warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, raptors: Bald Eagles; Golden Eagles; Peregrine Falcons, vultures, turkeys, other songbirds, sparrows, warblers, pheasants/grouse, among others
Island Beach State Park
Located in Ocean County, Island Beach State Park is another barrier island along the Jersey coast. Stretching 10 miles between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay, the park consists of over 3,000 acres of coastal dune, beach, thicket, freshwater wetlands, maritime forest, and tidal marshes. Stop in to the many restaurants and shops of Long Beach Island on your way.
The state’s largest Osprey colony lives in IBSP. The Park is also a great spot for winter birding.
Depending on the season, you could see: ducks, eiders, scoters, shorebirds, sandpipers, gulls, loons, gannets, cormorants, herons, egrets, woodpeckers, kinglets, thrushes, finches/crossbills, sparrows, other songbirds, raptors: Snowy Owls, Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and more.
Mercer Meadows (Lawrence Township)
Part of the Mercer County Parks System, Mercer Meadows is a wonderful birding spot in Central Jersey. The Park boasts over 1,600 acres of woods, open meadows, young forest, shrublands, lakes, marshy areas, and small brooks through which the Stony Brook flows.
Spot to check out: Pole Farm
Depending on the season, you could see: raptors: Short-eared Owls; Northern Harriers, hawks, woodpeckers, kinglets, flycatchers, warblers, thrushes, sparrows, songbirds, among others.
Thompsons Beach (Heislerville)
Throughout Cumberland County and much of South Jersey, there are ways to get out along the Delaware Bayshore. The area contains salt marsh, woodland, beach, dune, and tidal river habitat. The bayshore region is a critical migratory stopover for shorebirds, supporting the second-greatest shorebird congregation in North America.
Thompsons Beach is an incredible spot for both marshland birding and spotting species along the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Depending on the season, you could see: raptors, shorebirds like federally-listed Red Knots; Ruddy Turnstones; plovers; sandpipers; Short-billed Dowitchers; Whimbrels; Willets, sparrows, rails, herons, egrets, waterfowl, wrens, among others.
Duke Farms (Hillsborough Township)
Situated in Somerset County, Duke Farms offers not only great birding, but also great environmental education programming. Sitting on more than 1,000 acres of property, Duke Farms offers a variety of different habitats for birding: lakes, vernal pools, meadows, farmland, and forests.
According to eBird data, over 215 bird species have been spotted at Duke Farms. While you’re there, you can also visit their Orchid Greenhouse and Red Bridge.
Depending on the season, you could see: raptors, American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, shorebirds, sparrows, woodpeckers, blackbirds, bluebirds, other songbirds, ravens.
Throughout the Garden State
If you are interested in birding, but don’t see an area near you listed, consider visiting New Jersey Audubon Society‘s website to find centers, sanctuaries and hawk watches throughout the state. Also consider birding a “local patch” or area within walking distance from your home. You’d be amazed at how well you get to know your patch and how rewarding it is to observe seasonal changes.
The author’s local patch
A generous, knowledgeable community of Jersey birders helped to put this list together. There are over 30 other spots that we would be happy to share with you. Feel free to reach out to the author Lindsay McNamara for more information. Good birding!