The Garden State of New Jersey is on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Bordered by New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Atlantic Ocean, it is a birder’s paradise with shorelines, forests, mountains, and wetlands that host many bird species. In this post, we will be choosing a diverse range of birds in New Jersey like the America Goldfinch and learning a bit about them and where they might be seen in the state.
The State of New Jersey
The Atlantic Ocean plays a huge part in the geographical makeup of New Jersey, with over 130 miles of pristine coastline. To the south is the Delaware River estuary, and to the north is the Hudson River. Furthermore, over 60% of the state’s south is made up of plains with rolling hills, marshes, and forests. The main urban centers are further north, where several major rivers cross. The far north contains part of the Appalachians in the west and highlands and valleys in the east.
How Does New Jersey Attract Birds?
When considering a visit, birds in New Jersey may not be the first thought. It is often considered an urban, industrial, and casino-driven state, but there is a range of places that attract birds. You can certainly see more than blackbirds and cardinals here. For example:
- Cape May – A peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and regarded as one of the top birding spots in the northwest U.S., if not the whole country. The very tip of Cape May boasts an eBird sightings total of over 350 bird species, from herons to albatrosses and hawks to kinglets.
- Island Beach State Park – Halfway up the coast of New Jersey, this is a long, thin-barrier island. The area is full of dunes, wetlands, and forests. It has a bird list of over 300 species.
- Sandy Hook – Right in the northeastern corner of the State this is another peninsula classed as a Gateway National Recreational Area and boasts over 360 sightings of different birds. This must be one of the best places to see birds in N.J.
- Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge – Close to Atlantic City, this area of wetlands and marshes supports nearly 350 species.
- High Point State Park – Moving inland to the north-western corner, this area is full of forests, trails, and woodland birds, with a more modest 185 species.
- Spruce Run Reservoir – To the central west is this huge lake and wildlife management area with nearly 300 species. It is an accessible place to watch New Jersey’s birds.
New Jersey lands at 14th out of all the states in terms of bird species reported to eBird, with 482 species, which is pretty good considering that it is the 5th smallest state. The state also has very good taste, with the American Goldfinch being the adopted state bird.
In our investigation of New Jersey’s birds, we will start with the American Goldfinch, which seems proper. The other birds we have chosen are a combination of rare versus common, woodland and shorebirds, waterbirds versus seabirds, large or small, and the plain and beautiful. We hope you enjoy reading our findings.
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
The American Goldfinch is one of the more common birds in the state. The male has bright yellow and black plumage (pictured on the left), and the female has a duller yellow/green (on the right). Both birds are much more muted outside the breeding season and may be difficult to distinguish. the male’s orange bill is colored by the same carotenoids that give him his vivid yellow feathers. The female is attracted to the male with the brightest colors.
The American Goldfinch is a common resident of New Jersey. It can be seen all year round and even on the coastlines, as shown in the eBird range map below.
Length: 4.3 – 5.1 inches
Wingspan: 7.5 – 8.7 inches
Weight: 0.4 – 0.7 ounces
American Goldfinch Facts
Not only is this a beautiful bird to look at, but it is also interesting. It may be resident, but some birds migrate and can be seen in flocks during the fall journey to its wintering grounds.
During the breeding season, it waits until the start of summer to nest and stops laying eggs by mid-August.
They feed almost exclusively on vegetable matter, and if a parasitic bird lays eggs in a goldfinch nest, they do not survive long on this diet.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
The American Robin is actually a thrush. It was just named a robin because the red underbelly is similar to the European Robin species. The females (photo on the left) are very similar to the males, with a less bold breast. The males (on the right) have bright red breast and gray backs. They can often be seen in gardens and on lawns.
The American Robin is resident of New Jersey and can be seen all year round.
Length: 7.9 – 11.0 inches
Wingspan: 12.2 – 15.8 inches
Weight: 2.7 – 3.0 ounces
American Robin Facts
This is the most common and widely spread thrush in continental America.
It is hugely adaptable as it thrives in the cold north and hot south. This could be due to its diet, as it feasts on invertebrates in the spring and summer and takes fruit in autumn and winter. It is no stranger to backyard feeders, either.
This is quite amazing because it has a high failure rate when breeding. Only 10% of birds hatched will survive 6 months.
Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris)
The Black-browed Albatross is a small species member with dark gray wings and a white body. The juvenile (on the left) has a dark-tipped bill, which turns pinky orange when the adult (on the right) does. This is one of the easier albatrosses to identify with the dark brow giving it a severe look.
As seen on the range map, this albatross has only been seen off the coast of New Jersey, likely with a scope. Scientific studies show this bird should be in the Southern Hemisphere oceans. It is very rare for it to be seen in North American waters.
Length: 31 – 36 inches
Wingspan: 81 – 94 inches
Weight: 100 – 165 ounces
Black-browed Albatross Facts
The Black-browed Albatross is also known as a Mollymawk, a group of smaller albatross.
On the water, they can be difficult to identify, but I always start by grouping them into full black wings (ie, black all the way across the wings and black) and white partitioning (ie, white down the back of the body, between the wings). Then, I look for other distinguishing features like bill color and eyebrows.
Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
A very unusual owl that is ground and desert dwelling. It has typical owl features, brown and cream coloring, and large, pale yellow eyes. Its comical appearance makes it very photogenic and a popular icon in its residential area. Its call has unusual sounds like barking and wailing, but it is not unpleasant to hear.
Only seen a few times in New Jersey and, indeed the entire northeast. This is no surprise as they are usually found in the southwest or Florida desert areas.
Length: 7.5 – 9.8 inches
Wingspan: 21.6 inches
Weight: 5.3 ounces
Burrowing Owl Facts
There is just no end to the interesting information about this little owl. Living underground in burrows often dug out by other animals like prairie dogs or even turtles, it has a larder to store food for leaner times.
When preparing their burrow for egg-laying, they gather dried dung and lay it at the entrance. This attracts insects and provides an easy meal for the family.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
The beautiful coloration on this small hawk, with a red-orange breast on the adults (on the right) and streaks on the juvenile (photo on the left). It is the smallest hawk in North America and preys on smaller birds, sometimes appearing on your local bird feeder!
They are seen across the state but in fewer numbers during June and July when they are breeding. Prefers wooded areas and is likely to be seen whipping past in pursuit of prey. It can be spotted in flocks during migration, with numbers in the thousands at Cape May in the fall.
Length: 9.4 – 13.4 inches
Wingspan: 16.9 – 22.1 inches
Weight: 3.1 – 7.7 ounces
Sharp-shinned Hawk Facts
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is named because of its thin legs with no feathers.
It is known as a bird-killer, and it pursues prey in the air and skewers smaller birds with its strong talons and bill.
Adults teach the fledglings how to hunt by playing catch with prey in the air.
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
Very similar to the White-breasted Nuthatch but with an attractive orange belly. Black and white stripes on the head are strong, and it has the customary nuthatch stance sticking out from the side of a tree. The females have a breast that is more muted than the male.
Spread across the state and seen regularly in suitable habitats except for the summer months. They prefer certain types of fir tree forests but are still sighted in other areas.
Length: 4.3 inches
Wingspan: 7.1 – 7.9 inches
Weight: 0.3 – 0.5 ounces
Red-breasted Nuthatch Facts
The nuthatch gets its name from its tendency to wedge food into cracks in trees and jam them tightly.
It is aggressive during breeding as there is a lot of competition from other forest-based birds like woodpeckers, warblers, and wrens.
They are partially migratory, with northern birds moving south out of the cold in the winter.
Ruff (Calidris pugnax)
The Ruff in non-breeding colors (photo on the right) is an interesting-looking shorebird, but nothing compares to the bizarre headdress of its breeding plumage (on the left). The ruff can be different colors, from white to red, brown, or black. It is the most unusual shorebird. The birds photographed here are all males.
The Ruff is an irregular visitor to New Jersey but could turn up any time of the year. It is not confined to the Atlantic Coast either, with sightings across the state.
Length: 8 – 12.5 inches
Wingspan: 16.5 – 22.8 inches
Weight: 2.5 – 8.9 ounces
Although the Ruff is spread globally, it is mainly found in Europe. Small numbers reach the United States each year during their migration, possibly arriving in mixed flocks.
As the call recording demonstrates, it is a quiet bird making guttural croaks.
When the males wear that phenomenal ruff during breeding, it is not really understood what coloring is most successful.
American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)
A shy bird with a distinctive short, rounded head and long bill. Its creamy brown plumage camouflages it well in the shrubs it inhabits. The big gap between the eyes and the bill gives it an odd appearance. However, there is a good physiological reason for the positioning of the eyes. As it digs for food in the ground, it can still keep a lookout for danger.
Seen across New Jersey in suitable habitats. More visible in spring and fall. If you are looking for them, try to coincide your search with the breeding season.
Length: 9.8 – 12.2 inches
Wingspan: 16.5 – 18.9 inches
Weight: 4.1 – 9.8 ounces
American Woodcock Facts
The American Woodcock is known for its elaborate courtship displays as males spin in the air to impress the females. Several males may join together in these displays.
The woodcock is also known as the mudsucker and bigeye for obvious reasons.
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
A very attractive duck. The females are plainer but still pretty, with gray and black bodies, dark heads, and white cheeks. The male has more white on the body, head, iridescent cheeks, and forehead.
A commonly seen duck in winter and spring across the state. It is present on the coast, in estuaries, and in lakes.
Length: 12.6 – 15.8 inches
Wingspan: 21.6 inches
Weight: 9.6 – 22.4 ounces
The Bufflehead is unusual in that it doesn’t nest on the ground. It uses old holes in trees made by woodpeckers.
The female will inspect holes up to 1.4 meters high, and no nesting materials are used. The eggs are just laid within the cavity, on the wood.
Down from the female does transfer into the hole, so the hatchlings are not left cold.
Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis)
A tiny bittern with gorgeous tones of warm brown, red, and buff. Despite the striking markings, this bird is incredibly well camouflaged, appearing black from above and blending in with foliage from the side.
Seen in wetlands and marshes, often climbing in between reeds. The Least Bittern is an irregular visitor to New Jersey through the summer months in its appropriate habitat.
Length: 11 – 14.2 inches
Wingspan: 16.1 – 18.1 inches
Weight: 1.6 – 3.4 ounces
Least Bittern Facts
The Least Bittern uses all of its camouflage skills when it is alarmed. Instead of flushing, it stays motionless, relying on its ability to blend in with the background.
As seen in the photos, it hangs between the reeds and hunts by dangling over the water.
Brünnich’s Guillemot (Uria lomvia)
This seabird resembles a small penguin in the water, lying flat on the surface. White underneath and black on top, it has a dark eye and bill. Most striking is the white stripe above the bill.
This guillemot is seen around the coastline of New Jersey in the winter months. While they are seabirds, they occasionally turn up at large bodies of water inland. Not so in New Jersey, with the largest group reported to eBird being 4.
Length: 16 – 19 inches
Wingspan: 25 – 32 inches
Weight: 26 – 52 ounces
Brünnich’s Guillemot Facts
The Brünnich’s Guillemot is also known as the Thick-billed Murre.
They nest on sheer cliffs, packing in tightly.
When chicks fledge, they face success or death as they have to leap from the nesting area. Luckily the father is on hand to help at the bottom.
Pacific Diver (Gavia pacifica)
The Pacific Diver or Loon is an attractive sea dwelling bird. It has intricate patterns of black, white, and gray, finished with a dark neck and red eye. Colors are muted in non-breeding periods.
An irregular visitor to the Atlantic shores and even rarer to inland lakes. They are more likely to be seen outside of summer months.
Length: 22.8 – 29.1 inches
Wingspan: 43.3 – 50.4 inches
Weight: 35.3 – 88.2 ounces
Pacific Diver/Loon Facts
Compare the weight of the loon and some of our smaller, land-based birds. Whereas they need to be really light in order to be able to fly easily, the loon is an awful lot heavier.
However, it is still a good flyer, reaching speeds of 37 miles per hour.
The downside is that it cannot take off on land and needs a lot of space to take off on the water.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
The Golden Eagle is a huge raptor found across the Northern Hemisphere. It is a dark brown of varying shades and so named because of the gold-colored nape, which is often not visible. It is one of the few raptors with feathers all the way down its legs.
Seen across the state on an irregular basis outside of the summer months. Present in the open countryside, both flat and mountainous.
Length: 27.6 – 33.1 inches
Wingspan: 72.8 – 86.6 inches
Weight: 105.8 – 216.1 ounces
Golden Eagle Facts
Despite its size and obvious capabilities, the Golden Eagle’s diet consists of smaller mammals like rabbits and ground squirrels.
The Golden Eagle uses the same nesting sites year after year. In fact, it has been known for them to be ‘handed down’ through generations of birds.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
A common owl across the United States and easy to identify. Its large size and big ears are indicative. It has a gray morph and a red morph, both of which are stunning.
A common bird of wooded areas as well as parks and gardens. Found across the state all year round. Less visible during the summer breeding months.
Length: 18.1 – 24.8 inches
Wingspan: 39.8 – 57.1 inches
Weight: 32.1 – 88.2 ounces
Great-horned Owl Facts
This owl is one for the storybooks. It has an eerie presence, coupled with a deep hooting (and if often duets) makes it the owl found in every myth.
It is an apex predator and will hunt and kill Osprey, falcons, and other owls.
Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)
No surprise that the smallest bird in New Jersey will is a hummingbird. This is a fabulous little bird with rather plain plumage offset by a stunning magenta throat that is unevenly feathered. As usual, the females are a duller form.
This is a less common hummingbird reported in the northeast of New Jersey during the winter months.
Length: 3.1 – 3.5 inches
Wingspan: 4.1 – 4.3 inches
Weight: 0.1 ounces
Calliope Hummingbird Facts
Think about this. The Calliope Hummingbird weighs a tenth of an ounce. I can’t even picture that. That is less than 3 paper clips.
The intrigue around this bird doesn’t end there. The word calliope means beautiful voice. As in the recording, it is just lovely.
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
Another tiny bird of the bush with rather plain plumage of gray and olive. It has wing bars and white partial eye rings. A black ring on the head hides a spectacular golden crown.
Found in conifer forests across New Jersey, the Golden-crowned Kinglet is seen most during spring and fall and least during summer. Its migration patterns are unclear, and certainly, the reported sightings indicate that there are probably birds present in the state all year round.
Length: 3.1 – 4.3 inches
Wingspan: 5.5 – 7.1 inches
Weight: 0.1 – 0.3 ounces
Golden-crowned Kinglet Facts
This tiny bird looks very fragile, but it can withstand very cold temperatures.
It also nests twice each year despite having a short breeding period. This means the male has to pull his weight for a change!
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
The Herring Gull is a plain bird with pale gray and white plumage that is only offset by the yellow bill and eye. The wing tips are characteristically black with white spots. Even the pale pink legs are a little dull. However, plumage across the sub-species and locations is very variable.
The Herring Gull is widespread across New Jersey from the hinterland to the ocean. It is often seen in large flocks along with other gull species.
Length: 22.1 – 26 inches
Wingspan: 53.9 – 57.5 inches
Weight: 28.2 – 44.1 ounces
Herring Gull Facts
The Herring Gull is commonly seen on the coast of New Jersey and is likely to be referred to as a seagull. There are no such birds, however. As seen in the range map, this gull (like the other species) can be seen all throughout inland New Jersey.
The Herring Gull is hugely successful and can be seen across America and Europe. It is also expanding into Asia.
Gulls like the Herring are seen as pests that they are omnivorous. That means they will eat anything they can. Couple that with how smart they are, which means that they quickly associate humans with food. It is our own fault that these birds are a nuisance, as we have turned them into scavengers.
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Sparrows all look alike, right? Plain variations of brown and cream. Well, that may be but they are still interesting. The Savannah Sparrow has clearer markings from dark to mid-brown and cream. The face has a little more going on, with a buff eyebrow and a white patch under the eye.
The Savannah Sparrow is a resident of the state and is widespread. The range map below even shows some sightings at sea. It prefers open areas, including dunes, so that may be why. Less obvious in the summer months when it is breeding.
Length: 4.3 – 5.9 inches
Wingspan: 7.9 – 8.7 inches
Weight: 0.5 – 1.0 ounces
Savannah Sparrow Facts
This bird’s name refers to the place it was first studied rather than its preferred environment. The place was, of course, Savannah, Georgia.
People often think the Savannah Sparrow is rare, but the opposite is true. They are common and widespread. It could be that bird watchers overlook them or think they are another species of sparrow.
To add to the identification problems, there are actually five subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)
You just don’t need a field guide for some birds. I saw one sitting on a power line and was amazed by that tail. A gray head blends into a buff belly, and the extremely long tail is darker with regular white markings. If you doubt the identification, then seeing the bird in flight as it separates the tail shafts should confirm it.
Occurs irregularly in New Jersey except in January – March when it is overwintering in Mexico and Central America.
Length: 6.3 – 8.9 inches
Wingspan: 4.5 – 4.9 inches
Weight: 1.4 ounces
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Facts
This amazing bird collect human detritus to build its nest with. This includes paper, string, and cigarette butts.
There is only one other bird with a tail like the Scissor-tailed. It is the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.
The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is the state bird of Oklahoma.
Most of the time, shorebirds are a bunch of gray/brown, nondescript waders on a beach. They can be difficult to identify and just about impossible to photograph. However, when they are in breeding plumage, they can be stunning. Like this Dunlin. With a decurved bill, it looks a little like the Curlew Sandpiper, but the black bellow and rich brown and black back give it away. The throat and head are buffs with dark streaks.
The Dunlin can be seen in New Jersey at all times of the year, but as it is migratory, it is less present in the summer. Confusingly, these little waders are often in mixed flocks. The Dunlin is most likely to be seen on the coast, on beaches and mudflats, estuaries, and possibly inland at appropriate habitat.
Length: 6.3 – 8.7 inches
Wingspan: 14.2 – 15.0 inches
Weight: 1.7 – 2.7 ounces
Sandpipers and small shorebirds like Dunlin as collectively known as peeps. I have never heard them referred to as this anywhere else in the world.
The Dunlin is a tough little bird and can survive Arctic and Tundra conditions.
Dunlin will feed during the day and the night.
Well, New Jersey has not let us down. With a great range of environments and habitats for birds to live in or visit, there are hundreds of potential birding hotspots across the state. The birds we have looked at are so different but all special in different ways. My favorite would be the Brünnich’s Guillemot. I have seen young birds faced with challenges like this when they fledge, and I am always amazed at their bravery and resilience. Visiting New Jersey to see them is now on my bucket list.
When thinking about some of the birds on this list, I am reminded of how we quickly become contemptuous of familiar and common birds. (Non-breeding) shorebirds, sparrows, and gulls feature in both the beautiful and plain categories. I always try to look at these kinds of birds with fresh eyes. They are always beautiful, then.
Why is New Jersey a birding hot spot?
It is all about the environment. There are huge numbers of acres of salt marsh in New Jersey. Add the forests and hills in the north and the long coastlines with their barrier islands, and New Jersey become a fantastic place to visit to see birds.
What is the most common bird in New Jersey?
As in most states, particularly in the northeast – it is the Northern Cardinal. Its popularity for its beauty and regularity at backyard feeders must have something to do with its ever-increasing success.
Are eagles common in NJ?
According to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, Bald Eagles are present in all counties of New Jersey, and they may be migratory or resident. They estimate that more than 220 pairs of eagles nest in the state, and there are also Golden Eagles and American Osprey. So, yes, you can see eagles in New Jersey.
What is the biggest bird in New Jersey?
The American White Pelican is the most prominent resident of New Jersey. It has a wingspan of up to 115 inches; compare that to our Golden Eagle above at a maximum of 87 inches. Now that is a big bird!
Is New Jersey a good place for bird photography?
Absolutely. With the sun rising in the east, it is a great time to be on the dunes or in the wetlands in the mornings with the sun behind you. In the afternoons, when the sun is in the west, head for the beach to shoot the waders.