The South Cape May Meadows
The South Cape May Meadows Each fall, migrating songbirds, hawks, monarchs and more funnel into southern New Jersey’s peninsula in great numbers. © TNC

Stories in New Jersey

Fall Migration in Cape May

Each fall, migrating songbirds, hawks, monarchs and more funnel into southern New Jersey’s peninsula in great numbers. Here's a sampling of who to look for at our South Cape May Meadows and Garrett Family Preserve right now.

Northern Saw-whet owl in a forest.
Northern saw-whet owl Northern saw-whets are some of the smallest owls in the world. © Megan Lorenz

Banding studies conducted in Cape May Point have documented the importance of the Atlantic coast as a fall migration route for these diminutive raptors. Migrating raptors usually fly over broad fronts but can become concentrated by landforms, like the peninsula that creates the southern tip of New Jersey. Passing raptors hesitate to cross the Delaware Bay, slowing their progress, and resulting in large concentrations of raptors in the Cape May area. 

Fall Raptor Migration

Cape May is considered one of the best birding destinations in North America to witness fall migration, especially for raptors.

Close up of sharp shinned hawk.
Turkey vulture in field.
Broad-winged hawk in a forest.
American Kestrel in flight.
Osprey with fish.
Merlin perched on branch.
Cooper's hawk in a tree.
Peregrine falcon with wings spread.
Northern Harrier in the wetlands.
Osprey over pond.
Monarch Butterfly on flower.
Monarch Butterfly Every September and October, monarch butterflies stop in Cape May before continuing their 2,000 mile migration to Mexico. © TNC/Chris Helzer
Monarch Butterfly on flower.
Monarch Butterfly Goldenrod provides migrating monarchs with a vital food source. © Shutterstock

On their journey south to Mexico, monarch butterflies stop in Cape May County for a few weeks, numbering in the tens of thousands! Migration runs from September to October, peaking in the last weeks of September. The Garrett Family Preserve is a great place to spot monarch butterflies, as the preserve fills with goldenrod come late August. This nectar-bearing perennial is a vital food source for monarchs during their migration. Though monarch population numbers continue to vacillate, monitoring groups are cautiously optimistic about Cape May’s 2018 crop of butterflies. 

American Woodcock on forest floor.
American Woodock In Autumn, large numbers of American woodcock congregate in the woodlands and thickets of the South Cape May Meadows Preserve. © Damon Noe / TNC

American Woodock feed heavily on earthworms to build up their body-fat reserves before crossing the Delaware Bay and continuing south.

Common Loon and chick in a pond.
Common Loon The common loons we see in New Jersey are likely migrating from eastern Canada. © Shutterstock
Common loon and chick in pond.
Common Loon Common loon © Mark Peck via Flickr Creative Commons License

Common Loons leave the northern lakes that serve as their summer breeding grounds and head down the Atlantic coast. They eat fish and are agile swimmers, but they are also speedy in the air—they’ve been clocked flying at more than 70 mph!

Northern Flicker in flight.
Northern Flicker The northern flicker is one of the few North American woodpeckers that is strongly migratory. © Shutterstock

Each fall, Northern flickers travel south from Alaska and Canada. Unlike other woodpeckers, northern flickers prefer to dig for—and eat—ants from the ground.

Green-winged Teal in pond.
Green-winged Teal During migration, look for green-winged teal in shallow wetlands and marshes. © Shutterstock

Green-winged teal will “dabble” with other duck species, but can be differentiated by their small, compact bodies that float high out of the water. 

Yellow rumped Warbler
Yellow rumped Warbler Yellow-rumped warblers travel in large flocks from the northern reaches of Canada every winter, flooding the southern US, Atlantic coastline, Mexico and Central America. © Damon Noe
Great Ball Of Warbler
Great Ball Of Warbler The best time to see yellow-rumped warblers is during migration, when hordes of them sweep down the Atlantic Flyway. © Norman Rowsey/TNC Photo Contest 2018
Yellow rumped Warbler Yellow-rumped warblers travel in large flocks from the northern reaches of Canada every winter, flooding the southern US, Atlantic coastline, Mexico and Central America. © Damon Noe
Great Ball Of Warbler The best time to see yellow-rumped warblers is during migration, when hordes of them sweep down the Atlantic Flyway. © Norman Rowsey/TNC Photo Contest 2018

Yellow-rumped warblers love the shrubby habitats of New Jersey’s coast like those found in Cape May.

Tree Swallow Migration Fall months mark the beginning of their migration, which takes 3-4 months for them to complete.
Tree Swallows in flight.
Tree swallows Large flocks of tree swallows fill the skies of our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. © TNC

Tree swallows are very social birds and during migration 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. They supplement their insect diet with berries and can be seen landing by the masses on bayberry trees at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. They will usually land and begin flying again in unison, causing massive clouds of birds!

Peregrine Falcon adult.
Peregrine Falcon In power-diving from great heights to strike prey, the peregrine falcon may reach 200 miles per hour, making it one of the fastest bird species in existence. © Shutterstock

Peregrines are found on every continent except Antarctica, and the Atlantic Flyway is one of their known migratory paths.

American Kestrel on a rock.
American Kestrel The American kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon in North America. © Shutterstock

Some of these fierce raptors will migrate south from Canada, but some take up year-round residence in the lower 48 states. They can frequently be spotted along mountain ridges, on telephone poles and scouting for prey (predominately large flying insects) from high in treetops.

Visit Our Cape May Preserves This Fall

Cape May is a fall migration hot spot, and our South Cape May Meadows and Garrett Family Preserves are located in the heart of the migration action, making them havens for migrating songbirds, raptors, pollinators and more!

South Cape May Meadows Preserve freshwater pond.
Nature trails through fields.
Goldenrod flowers along a trail.
Trail at South Cape May Meadows Preserve.
Wooden arches on nature trail.

This area is such a legendary and productive hotspot that you can find doorstop-sized books written about birds and birding on this tiny peninsula. 

Fall migration is a must-see in Cape May, expect to see a wide variety of migrants from September through November. 

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