NJ’s Endangered & Threatened Birds

16 07 2010

While it may come as a surprise to some, birders know New Jersey is home to much more than just cardinals and crows.   The state is home to a wide variety of bird species.  More than 300 different types of birds are seen in the state annually, and in total an incredible 465 species have been recorded in the state!  That’s more than 35 other states.

Many of the bird species that migrate or breed in New Jersey are considered endangered or threatened.  Their numbers have dropped so low, there is wide-spread concern over their future as a sustainable population.  These species have declined thanks to a variety of factors, but habitat fragmentation and degradation are almost always some of the leading causes.   In the last few hundred years, more than 30 bird species have become extinct in North America alone (130+ throughout the world since 1500 AD).  Recent studies suggest extinctions are happening faster than originally expected – about one bird per year.  Predictions for the next century project over 1,200 bird species (about 12% of the world’s total) going extinct if development and pollution continue at their current rate.

The situation is not hopeless.  Birds are remarkably adaptable and have been shown to make strong comebacks from seemingly futile situations.  The Bald Eagle, for example, was pushed to the verge of extinction following the wide-spread use of DDT.  At one point New Jersey had one nesting pair remaining in the state.  In 2009, New Jersey had 84 pairs of Bald Eagles nesting within its borders!  The problems are fragmentation and development are more problematic than DDT, unfortunately.  The solutions will be long-term, hard to quantify, and require dedication from many parties.

Pictured below are some of the incredible species that breed in New Jersey.  All of these species are classified as endangered or threatened in the state.

American Bittern, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

The American Bittern is a secretive marsh bird that is rarely seen.  It blends in perfectly and remains perfectly still, both while hunting and while trying to avoid predators.  When the wind blows, it lifts its head and sways back-and-forth with the marsh grasses.  The call of the American Bittern is deep and carries across long distances.

Piping Plover, Cape May

The Piping Plover is not only in trouble in New Jersey; the species is listed as federally endangered.  Nesting on barrier islands and open beaches has become increasingly dangerous for these small shorebirds.  Predators like foxes, crabs, and feral cats have become more common.  Dogs being walked on the beach, even while leashed and not a real threat, will be perceived as such and may limit the foraging abilities of the parent plovers.  It is important to follow all posted signs and stay outside of fenced off beach areas during their breeding season (usually March 15th – August 31st).

Least Terns, Cape May

The Least Tern, another beach resident, shares many problems with the Piping Plover.  Their nest consists of little more than a shallow impression in the sand.  They are endlessly entertaining, though.  Males battle for territory and the right to bring fish to the nearest female.  If the fish is tasty enough, she just might let him mate with her (sometimes while still holding the fish in his beak).

Black-Crowned Night-Heron, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Both of the nocturnal herons, the Black-Crowned and Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons, are threatened in New Jersey.

Osprey pair, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

The Osprey’s tale mirrors that of the Bald Eagle to some extent.  Their populations were decimated during the DDT years, and have made a slow and steady climb in the last few decades.  Now they can be observed each spring building nests at Sandy Hook, Brigantine, Cape May, and elsewhere.  You can often spot them carrying a fish back to their nests to share with their mates and offspring.

Red-Headed Woodpecker, Cape May Point State Park

The Red-Headed Woodpecker, perhaps our most striking woodpecker, is also listed as threatened.  Occasionally they can still be found in spring and summer, listening to dead branches for the sounds of insects and larvae moving around inside.

American Oystercatcher, Cape May

The American Oystercatcher, a state-listed species of concern, is another beach resident.  Again, they share the same problems all of the beach-nesters do: diminished habitat, increased predation, etc.

These are only the endangered and threatened birds who breed in New Jersey that are facing a severe threat to their existence.  Many other species need New Jersey’s beaches, forests, marshes, and grasslands to survive during winter or during a stressful migration.  Red Knots, Long-Eared Owls, and Short-Eared Owls are only a few of these species that are listed as endangered or threatened in New Jersey.

For more information on all of the endangered and threatened animals of New Jersey, please visit the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s website here: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/tandespp.htm





5 responses

17 07 2010
Tom Boyle

I loved the photography. Piping Plovers arrive in Nj in mid-March. Sandy Hook had its’ first nest this year on April 11th……so the dates of May 15th -Aug 15th should be skewed earlier. Disturbance is a real problem.

17 07 2010

Thanks, Tom.

I, for some reason, wrote May instead of March. The beginning of breeding season for Piping Plovers in NJ is listed by FWS as March 15th. The original post has been edited to reflect this.

17 07 2010
Melissa Morris

These photographs are amazing.

This post is also a good reminder to us all that we need to do what we can to preserve the habitats of our NJ wildlife.

Thank you for the information!


30 07 2010
Mike @ Slugyard

Great photos. I was born and raised in New Jersey and wish I had explored it more. I remember hiking in Turkey Swamp State Park as a kid and it ignited my love for the outdoors.

I’ve lived in Oregon now for 16 years- loving the outdoors is a requirement here.

3 01 2011
2010 in review « New Jersey Outdoors

[…] The busiest day of the year was July 17th with 92 views. The most popular post that day was NJ’s Endangered & Threatened Birds. […]

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