A great egret is fishing in a freshwater pond.
Great Egret Great egrets mainly eat small fish. © Judy Tseng/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Stories in New Jersey

Birds of New Jersey

Did you know there are over 480 species of birds found in New Jersey? Get to know common species near you.

Just like the weather, the bird species you'll see in New Jersey change with the seasons. Learn more about some of the birds you can see and hear at different times of the year in our state. 

Spring

Two adult purple martins are hovering above a birdhouse.
Purple Martin Houses Each year, purple martins nest in the houses at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. © Jennifer Emerling
A male purple martin is flying with its wings spread wide.
Purple Martin Purple martins are the largest swallows found in North America. © Shutterstock
Purple Martin Houses Each year, purple martins nest in the houses at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. © Jennifer Emerling
Purple Martin Purple martins are the largest swallows found in North America. © Shutterstock

Purple Martin

Spring marks the arrival of purple martins to New Jersey. These chatty songbirds have broad chests, forked tails, and slightly hooked bills. Males are dark blue-purple, while females are duller blue-purple with variable amounts of gray. Almost all purple martins in New Jersey nest in birdhouses, like the one at our South Cape May Meadows preserve. 

Purple Martin

Purple Martin song.

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Purple Martin song. 

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A bright yellow warbler is perched in a blooming tree.
Yellow Warbler: Mid-spring marks the start of breeding season for yellow warblers in New Jersey. © Sheen Watkins

Yellow Warbler

These small, uniformly yellow songbirds are most often found near the tops of trees and tall shrubs. They forage restlessly, hopping from branch to branch. Yellow warblers breed in New Jersey, usually towards the end of May or the beginning of June. 

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler song.

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Yellow Warbler song. 

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An adult osprey is perched on the edge of its nest.
Osprey An osprey, a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey, sits on its nest. © Kent Mason

Osprey

These large brown and white raptors begin their nesting season in late March to early April. During the spring months, ospreys can be seen flying overhead carrying nesting material as they get ready for their chicks' arrival. Take note of their M-shaped wings while they fly above. 
 
Read more about recovering osprey in New Jersey and check out the live-streamed osprey nest at our South Cape May Meadows preserve. 

Osprey

Osprey call.

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Osprey call.

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An adult killdeer is flying over a body of water.
Killdeer Given their chatty nature, killdeer have been given the nicknames chattering plover and noisy plover. © Shutterstock

Killdeer

If you haven't seen killdeer, you've probably heard them. Killdeer are very vocal, so much so they have been nicknamed Chattering Plover and Noisy Plover. They begin nesting in New Jersey in the early spring months. They are ground-nesters and can often be seen fiercely defending their nests. 

Killdeer

Killdeer call.

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Killdeer call. 

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Summer

An adult great egret is flying above a pond.
Great egret Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully: with just two wingbeats per second their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour. © Kent Mason

Great Egret

These tall, long-legged wading birds have yellow dagger-like bills that they use to strike prey, usually fish or aquatic invertebrates. Great egrets can be seen in wetlands and freshwater ponds, standing immobile or wading slowly, anticipating the perfect opportunity to capture a fish.

Great Egret

Great Egret Call.

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Great Egret Call.

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A common yellowthroat is perched in a thorny shrub.
Common Yellowthroat In the summer months, common yellowthroats can be found in open habitats such as marshes, wetland edges, and brushy fields. © Sujata Roy

Common Yellowthroat

Common yellowthroats arrive in New Jersey in the spring to kick off their breeding season. These small songbirds live in thick, tangled vegetation. They are most common in wet areas where there is dense vegetation close to the ground. 

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat song.

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Common Yellowthroat song.

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An adult green heron is perched on a tree branch.
Green Heron Green herons arrive in New Jersey in the early spring to start their breeding season. © Kent Mason

Green Heron

Compared with most other herons, green herons are short and stocky. From a distance, they appear to be all dark in color, but up close they deep green with a rich chestnut breast. Look for them in wetland areas, especially along the banks. 

Green Heron

Green Heron call.

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Green Heron call. 

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A snowy egret is flying low over a body of water.
Snowy Egret Snowy egrets are most common along the New Jersey coast, though they do breed patchily in inland wetlands. © Kent Mason

Snowy Egret

Snowy egrets are usually only found in New Jersey during their breeding season which starts in April or May and ends in late August. Their preferred habitat is wetlands. While they can be found inland, their greatest numbers occur along the coast, especially areas with mudflats and tidal marshes

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret call.

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Snowy Egret call. 

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Fall

An adult sharp-shinned hawk with yellow eyes sits center screen.
Sharp-shinned Hawk Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks in the United States and Canada. © Karine Aigner

Sharp-shinned Hawk

These tiny hawks are extremely acrobatic fliers, navigating through thick woods at top speed in pursuit of their prey. Sharp-shinned hawks are nearly identical to Cooper's hawks. One way to tell them apart is by looking at their tail feathers: Sharp-shinned hawks have straight tail feather tips, and Cooper's have curved tail feather tips. Hint Hint: Straight starts with S, sharp-shinned hawk starts with S. Curved starts with C, Cooper's hawk starts with C.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawk call.

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Sharp-shinned hawk call. 

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A blue tree swallow is perched on a branch.
Perched Tree Swallow Perched tree swallow under a late day sun. © William Adamczak/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Hundreds of adult tree swallows are flying above the tree line.
Tree swallows Tree swallows form enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands of birds, which have been known to darken the skies of Cape May in the Fall. © TNC
Perched Tree Swallow Perched tree swallow under a late day sun. © William Adamczak/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Tree swallows Tree swallows form enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands of birds, which have been known to darken the skies of Cape May in the Fall. © TNC

Tree Swallow

After breeding season, these iridescent blue songbirds start their migration south. Migration numbers peak in New Jersey come early autumn. Enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds or thousands of tree swallows can be seen gathering about an hour before sunset, swirling around like a massive tornado. 

Tree Swallow

Tree swallow song.

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Tree swallow song.

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A double-crested cormorant is sunning after a swim.
Double-Crested Cormorant These waterbirds are colonial birds that seek aquatic bodies big enough to support their mostly fish diet. © Tiffany Stoate/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Double-crested Cormorant

These large waterbirds have long necks, yellow-orange skin on the face, and strongly hooked bills. Double-crested cormorants' feathers are not waterproof and will become waterlogged, allowing them to dive deeper after prey. After a swim, they can often be seen with their wings spread wide, allowing them to dry out. 

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant call.

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Double-crested Cormorant call. 

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A red-tailed hawk has its wings spread open wide.
Red-tailed Hawk Red-tailed hawks are one of the most common hawks in North America. © Shutterstock

Red-tailed Hawk

One of the more common hawks in North America, red-tailed hawks live in New Jersey year-round. However, the autumn months bring on the start of their fall migration, allowing for the best opportunities to see this species. Juveniles are usually the first to move south and typically move further south than the adults. 
 

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk call.

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Red-tailed Hawk call. 

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Winter

Two adult gadwalls are flying through a forested area.
Gadwall In a world where male ducks sport gleaming patches of green, red, or blue, the Gadwall's understated elegance can make this common duck easy to overlook. © Shutterstock

Gadwall

About the same size as mallards, male gadwalls are gray-brown with a black patch at the tail. Females are patterned with brown and buff. Gadwalls have square heads and a white patch on their wings, visible during flight. Look for gadwalls on small bodies of freshwater with plenty of aquatic vegetation. 

Gadwall

Gadwall call.

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Gadwall call. 

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An adult green winged teal is sitting in a pond.
Green-winged Teal The little Green-winged Teal is the smallest dabbling duck in North America. © Shutterstock

Green-winged Teal

These tiny ducks are the smallest dabbling ducks in North America. In flight, both males and females have an iridescent green patch in their wings. During the winter months in New Jersey, green-winged teals can be seen foraging in shallow ponds and wetlands. 

Green-winged Teal Female

Green-winged Teal Female call.

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Green-winged Teal Female call. 

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Green-winged Teal Male

Green-winged Teal Male call.

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Green-winged Teal Male, 

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A white throated sparrow is perched in a bare tree.
White-throated Sparrow These sparrows breed mostly across Canada, but they are familiar winter birds across most of eastern and southern North America. © Sujata Roy

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated sparrows are a common sight during New Jersey winters. After wrapping up its breeding season in Canada, this species makes its way to most of eastern and southern North America to overwinter. During winter, you’ll find white-throated sparrows along the edges of thickets, weedy fields, suburbs, backyards, and even city parks.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow call.

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White-throated Sparrow call.

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Three northern pintails are flying against a clear, blue sky.
Northern Pintails Keep an eye out for Northern Pintails on the Maurice River during the winter months. © Shutterstock

Northern Pintail

Northern pintails are elegant, long-necked ducks with lengthy, pointed tails. They winter throughout most of New Jersey, and can often be found foraging in groups along shallower edges of lakes and ponds. Northern pintails are generally social birds and readily associate with other ducks during the nonbreeding season. 

Northern Pintail

Northern pintail call.

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Northern pintail call. 

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Year-Round

A bright red male cardinal is perched in a tree.
Male Northern cardinal Northern cardinals don't migrate as they prefer to live within a mile of where they were born. © Oliver Starks
A tan female cardinal is resting on a branch.
Female Cardinal Female cardinals will call from the nest, signaling to the male to bring her food. © Eric Branton/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Male Northern cardinal Northern cardinals don't migrate as they prefer to live within a mile of where they were born. © Oliver Starks
Female Cardinal Female cardinals will call from the nest, signaling to the male to bring her food. © Eric Branton/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Northern Cardinal

Perhaps one of the most well-recognized birds in New Jersey is the Northern cardinal. Males boast brilliant red feathers, while females are pale brown with reddish tinges on the wings and tail. Both have a black face and a bright red-orange bill. Northern cardinals can be seen at nearly any bird feeder, especially if they are filled with black sunflower seeds. 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal song.

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Northern Cardinal song.

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A pair of Mallard ducks in fast flight, closeup.Genus species Anas platyrhynchos.
Mallard The male mallard is called a drake and the female a hen. © Robert Adami / Shutterstock.

Mallard

Mallards are a familiar sight in New Jersey. The male's green head, yellow bill, and brown and black body make it one of the easiest identifiable birds. Mallards can live in almost any wetland habitat, artificial or natural. Look for them in ponds, lakes, or even suburban parks. Male mallards don't quack. The female's call is the "standard" duck sound. 

Mallard Call

Mallard call.

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Mallard call.

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A red-winged black bird is singing from a small tree branch.
Red Winged Blackbird When singing to defend the territory or to attract a female, the male fluffs the red epaulettes and half-spreads his wings to display the red and yellow feathers. © Douglas King

Red-winged Blackbird

These ground foraging songbirds can usually be seen sitting atop cattails and telephone wires. Males are glossy black with red and yellow shoulder patches, while females are brown with pale streaks. The males are fiercely territorial. 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged blackbird song.

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Red-winged blackbird song.

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A turkey vulture is making a landing in a grassy field.
Turkey Vulture Often confused with other soaring raptors, the opportunistic Turkey Vulture can be identified by a long glide with very few wingbeats. © Andy Morffew

Turkey Vulture

Often seen soaring above, these large, dark raptors have "fingers" at their wingtips and a featherless red head. Turkey vultures lack the organs to form a proper song. Instead, they make a low, guttural hiss.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey vulture call.

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Turkey vulture call.

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Put Your Skills to the Test!

Our preserves throughout the state provide much-needed habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Now that you've learned about the appearance, habitats, and calls of these common bird species, test your knowledge at one of our New Jersey preserves