NJ beaches are attracting an incredible variety of bird species
Whether you’re hanging out on the beach, or fishing along the coast, chances are you’ve seen some of New Jersey’s native birds this summer.
How many bird species can be found at the Jersey Shore?
Almost 300 species of birds have been seen along the Jersey Shore in 2022 from Sandy Hook to Cape May, said Scott Barnes, program director and assistant director of ecotravel at the New Jersey Audubon.
Monmouth County alone has recorded 175 species for June and July. The statewide total from all 120 miles of the coastline is approximately 235 species seen this summer, Barnes said.
What species of birds can be found at the Jersey Shore?
Some common birds seen along the Jersey Shore and at the beaches in the summer include gulls, terns, sandpipers, plovers, and ospreys.
Barnes said it’s easy to spot an osprey. There’s a nest on almost every cell phone tower or some other tall structure at the shore. This is one species that has greatly increased in the state.
“There’s, I believe over 500 pairs now that nest in New Jersey and that’s a new high from the low that occurred in the 1970s, almost 50 years ago due to DDT when the population was down to about 50 nesting pairs, and now we’re up to 500,” Barnes said.
While there are not really bird species that can only be found in New Jersey and not in other states, Barnes said there are certain species of birds that are strictly found in coastal and marine habitats like the American oystercatcher, a shorebird.
There are also the black skimmers which are related to terns. Barnes said these birds are cool because they fly along the water and skim the water. Their lower beak is longer than their upper beak. They cut through the water. As soon as they hit a fish, their bill automatically snaps shut and they eat the fish, he said.
If you go fishing or whale watching, Barnes said, oftentimes, you’ll find birds difficult to see from the land like shearwaters, and storm petrels. They are sea birds that nest in the south Atlantic and spend their winter (our summer) in the northern hemisphere.
Petrels are small birds that fly across the surface of the water and eat plankton and other small marine life. They nest way down off the coast of South America which is in the winter season now. Barnes said petrels migrate north to spend the winter up here off the Jersey Shore.
What birds have grown or declined in population along the coast?
Beach nesting bird populations have declined, said Barnes, including common tern, least tern, black skimmer, and piping plover. They are managed more intensely to try and protect their habitats. Conservationists fence or string off the areas where there are nesting colonies to keep people out to give the birds a chance to reproduce.
Some bird populations that have increased in numbers include white ibis, related to herons and egrets. Barnes said they are all white, with black wing-tips and a reddish-pink decurved bill. They were a rare bird in New Jersey years ago.
“But in the last couple of years, there’s a new colony of them nesting down by the Ocean City Welcome Center in Cape May County. There’s well over 100 there and that’s a really new thing that’s only happened in the last few years,” Barnes said.
Brown pelican birds don’t nest in New Jersey but they are a lot more common now along the Jersey Shore than a decade ago. Barnes just saw two in Manasquan recently. It’s not uncommon to see brown pelicans at Island Beach State Park or Long Beach Island.
What do you do if you see an injured bird?
Barnes said if a bird is clearly injured with a broken wing or caught in a fishing line, the best thing is to call a wildlife rehabilitator in New Jersey.
But, also keep in mind that birds like the killdeer will fake an injury to protect their babies and eggs from predators. Predators like gulls, crows, snakes, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and even dogs and cats, usually go after the vulnerable. So, Barnes said, if a predator is eying up the nest, oftentimes, the mama bird will feign a broken wing to try and distract the predator from them.
Where can you learn about New Jersey birds?
Barnes runs a program at the New Jersey Audubon Society called “All Things Birds.” They do birding field trips across the state from High Point to Cape May.
In the summertime, the walks concentrate along the Jersey Shore such as the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Atlantic City. Sandy Hook and Island Beach State Park are also common spots for birding field trips in the summer.
“But we get around. We go to lots of different parts of the state looking for the best opportunities to show people lots of birds and get out and enjoy nature, Barnes said.
People can get more info and register for the field trips at www.njaudubon.org.