My 12 Best Bird Watching Spots in New Jersey You Should Try

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New Jersey is a small state with a high human population, but it still has a lot to offer when it comes to bird watching. Since a visitor may not know the best spots to bird watch, I have decided to compile this list of top birding spots, including some of the bird species to look for in each spot.

The best bird watching spots in New Jersey include those on Delaware Bay, such as Cape May Point State Park and Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. The barrier island of Island Beach and high-elevation areas like High Point State Park is also excellent for birds.

A table giving the most interesting birds you can see at each of my top 12 birding spots in New Jersey:

Island Beach State ParkGreat Cormorant and Northern Gannet
Cape May Point State Park and Bird ObservatoryBlack-necked Grebe and Bald Eagle
Sandy HookRazorbill and Brant
Great Swamp National Wildlife RefugeScarlet Tanager and King Rail
Clinton Wildlife Management AreaBlack-billed Cuckoo and Osprey
High Point State ParkRuffed Grouse and Common Raven
Stokes State ForestGolden Eagle and Northern Goshawk
Heislerville Wildlife Management AreaBufflehead and Short-billed Dowitcher
Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife RefugeRoseate Spoonbill and Black Skimmer
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation AreaCerulean Warbler and Brown Creeper
Garret Mountain ReservationBarred Owl and American Redstart
New Jersey MeadowlandsSnowy Egret and American Kestrel
Best Places to Bird Watch in New Jersey

Read further to discover more information on the best birding sites in New Jersey and the species of birds you should look out for at each site.

Best Bird Watching Spots in New Jersey
Best Bird Watching Spots in New Jersey

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in New Jersey

The best places for birds are often those with a range of habitats that attract a diverse avifauna.

1. Island Beach State Park

This is a 3,000-acre barrier island. The habitats here include dunes, marshland, and woodland. You can find many different birds here, including the following:

  • Great Cormorants,
  • Double-crested Cormorants,
  • Red-throated Loons,
  • Buffleheads,
  • Surf Scoters,
  • Red-breasted Mergansers,
  • and Brants.

Black Skimmers, Glaucous Gulls, and Least Terns have also been recorded in the area.

You should keep an eye out for birds like Black-legged Kittiwakes and Razorbills. You can also find shorebirds like:

  • Greater Yellowlegs,
  • Sanderlings,
  • Pectoral Sandpipers,
  • Semipalmated Sandpipers,
  • Piping Plovers,
  • Ruddy Turnstones,
  • and Purple Sandpipers.

Saltmarsh Sparrows also reside in the park in the brackish marshy areas.

Other bird species to look out for in the woodlands include Eastern Phoebes and Yellow-rumped Warblers. There is a checklist of 217 bird species that you can use when visiting this area.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

2. Cape May Point State Park and Bird Observatory

Cape May is very popular among bird watchers and is located where the Delaware Bay joints the Atlantic Ocean. Cape May Point State Park is an excellent spot for hawk-watching in October and September.

Such birds include Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Golden Eagles, and Bald Eagles.

New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory provides more information and trips for bird watchers.

Other birds to look out for in the Cape May area include the following species:

  • Red Knots,
  • Ruddy Turnstones,
  • Red-breasted Merganser,
  • Ruddy Duck,
  • Snow Goose,
  • Greater White-fronted Goose,
  • Common Merganser,
  • Western Grebe,
  • Black-necked Grebe,
  • and Western Grebe.

This peninsula is good for seeing migratory birds. A large number of warblers have been recorded here during migration, including the following:

  • Blue-winged Warbler,
  • Ovenbird,
  • Golden-winged Warbler,
  • Tennessee Warbler,
  • Swainson’s Warbler,
  • and Prothonotary Warbler.

3. Sandy Hook

At least 363 bird species have been recorded in this area. Sandy Hook is a peninsula that extends 6 miles out from the New Jersey shoreline. The area is good for migrating hawks, warblers, and birds you normally see over the ocean.

Species you can find in winter include:

  • Brants,
  • Razorbills,
  • Great Cormorants,
  • Northern Gannets,
  • Long-tailed Ducks,
  • White-winged Scoters,
  • and Black Scoters. 

Ring-billed, Laughing, and Herring Gulls have been recorded, as have several shorebird species. Look out for Piping Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Sandpipers, and Purple Sandpipers.

In grassy areas, you can look for American Golden-Plovers and Northern Bobwhites. Marshland and shallow wetland areas can have King Rails and American Gallinules.

TOP TIP: Understanding the best practices for birding according to season, and what birds may be likely to eat in certain seasons, are critical aspects of bird watching that can help improve your ability to find the birds you are after.

4. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is in Morris County, New Jersey, and not that far from Manhattan. The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is 7,768 acres in size and consists of forests and wetlands. There are trails and a boardwalk you can use for walking along and birding. 

Several species of birds breed in the refuge, including Wood Ducks and Wild Turkeys. Several marsh-loving species nest here, for instance, the Sora, Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, and King Rail.

Several beautiful passerines are found in the refuge. Examples include:

  • Scarlet Tanager,
  • Baltimore Oriole,
  • Indigo Bunting,
  • Ovenbird,
  • Black-and-white Warbler,
  • Blue-winged Warbler,
  • and Willow Flycatcher.

Barred Owls have also been observed in the refuge.

5. Clinton Wildlife Management Area

This area includes the Spruce Run Reservoir and is another great spot for birds. Bald Eagles and Ospreys are found here. Red-shouldered Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks occur here, as do many other birds.

In summer, you can find Black-billed Cuckoos and Yellow-billed Cuckoos in the refuge, along with small bird species in the wooded areas.

Such species include:

  • Louisiana Waterthrush,
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler,
  • Hooded Warbler,
  • and Prairie Warbler.

Waterthrushes are usually quite low down in the vegetation near water.

6. High Point State Park

This park is situated in the northwestern part of New Jersey and is the highest elevation in the state, reaching 1,803 feet. The Cedar Swamp Trail is recommended for birders here as it takes you through a high-elevation bog with cedar trees.

You should look for Ruffed Grouse and Common Ravens along the trail and birds like:

  • Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers,
  • Hermit Thrushes,
  • Northern Waterthrushes,
  • Worm-eating Warblers,
  • and Blue-headed Vireos.

7. Stokes State Forest

Stokes State Forest is a scenically beautiful forested area with clear streams and places to camp. It does include parts of the Appalachian Trail and Sunrise Mountain. The mountain is a good place to watch for migrating hawks in the fall, including Golden Eagles and Northern Goshawks.

Look out for an assortment of warblers and other passerines in the forests. There should also be many woodpeckers in the trees.

8. Heislerville Wildlife Management Area

This area is on the coast at Delaware Bay. The marshland, mudflats, and impoundments hare are rich in birdlife. You can expect to see many different species by exploring this area. At least 275 bird species have been recorded here, and there is a checklist you can use.

Waterfowl found here include:

  • Northern Pintails,
  • Ruddy Ducks,
  • Buffleheads,
  • Northern Shovelers,
  • and Green-winged Teals.

Snow Geese are also seen here in the refuge. 

Shorebirds to look out for on the mudflats here include the following species: Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, and Willet. On the ground, you can find American Woodcocks and Wild Turkeys.

Tricolored Herons, Long-billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, and more birds have been recorded. This area is really worth a trip if you want to see a lot of birds.

9. Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

The Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is 47,000 acres in size and is close to Atlantic City. There is an 8-mile drive you can take when bird watching here.

The drive goes past impoundments, which are good for waterfowl. You may also see shorebirds when water levels are low and mud is exposed.

Much of the refuge is made up of salt marsh, which is attractive to a range of birds. You can find birds like the Roseate Spoonbill and Black Skimmer. Saltmarsh Sparrow and Seaside Sparrows nest in the refuge as do Osprey and Least Bitterns.

An assortment of shorebirds occurs here in the refuge. Shorebirds recorded here include Solitary Sandpipers, Piping Plovers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and American Avocets. Peregrine Falcons and Chuck-will’s-widows also call the refuge home.

10. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

This area is where the Delaware River passes through the Appalachian Mountains. Many people bird watch by driving along Old Mine Road, which follows the river.

Birds to look for in this recreation area include Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Common Mergansers. You can also see many birds in the trees and bushes along the way. Several species of warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers can be spotted.

In terms of thrushes, you can find Hermit Thrushes and Veerys. Warblers to search for include:

  • Cerulean Warblers,
  • Hooded Warblers,
  • Worm-eating Warblers,
  • Blue-winged Warblers,
  • Blackburnian Warblers,
  • and Chestnut-sided Warblers.

Least Flycatchers and Brown Creepers have been recorded before, as have both the Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Waterthrush. The waterthrushes are found most often near water, so keep that in mind when looking for them.

11. Garret Mountain Reservation

This 568-acre park has 8 miles of trails and is a designated important bird area. The habitat for birds is mainly deciduous forests.

Barred Owls and Yellow-breasted Chats can be found here. This area can be very good during migration. There is a species checklist you can print off for the birds here.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Blue Grosbeaks can often be seen here. A large number of warbler species have been recorded in the area, including:

  • Prairie Warbler,
  • American Redstart,
  • Black-and-white Warbler,
  • Blackpoll Warbler,
  • Bay-breasted Warbler,
  • Blackburnian Warbler,
  • and more.

An assortment of sparrows, blackbirds, vireos, and woodpeckers can also be found.

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

12. New Jersey Meadowlands

The meadowlands describe an area not far from New York City where about 200 species of birds have been recorded.  The meadowlands are designated by the New Jersey Audubon Society as an important bird area. 

Mill Creek Park in Secaucus is one of the places in the meadowlands where you can see interesting birds like Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets.

Many species of waterfowl have been found on ponds in the meadowlands. You can find species like:

  • Ring-necked Ducks,
  • American Black Ducks,
  • Common Merganser,
  • Common Goldeneye,
  • Lesser Scaup,
  • Mallard,
  • and Gadwall.

Check muddy areas near wetlands for shorebirds like Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Marshy vegetation is always good to check as well when out birding. This is where you can find such elusive birds as American Bitterns and Virginia Rails. It is best to look for these at dusk and dawn when they tend to be most active.

Land birds to find in the area include species such as Alder Flycatcher, Grasshopper Sparrow, Ovenbird, Orchard Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and Northern Parula. You may see raptors like Rough-legged Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrels, and Bald Eagle.

Best Time to Bird Watching in New Jersey

You can bird watch any time of the year and any season in New Jersey. However, some birds are more easily seen during certain times of the year.

Raptor migrationSeptember and October
Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed CuckooSummer
Best Time to Bird Watching in New Jersey

The New Jersey State Bird

American Goldfinch - The New Jersey State Bird
American Goldfinch – The New Jersey State Bird

The New Jersey State Bird is the American Goldfinch. These are beautiful little birds that fly around in flocks. In the breeding season, the males have bright yellow colors with black and white wings and a black patch on the top of the head. 

The females and non-breeding males are a duller yellow on the chest and belly and an olive color on top. Goldfinches are seed eaters that are often attracted to thistles and can be seen in gardens eating from thistle feeders.

Bird Watching Laws in New Jersey

No individual in New Jersey is allowed to hunt, catch, or have any wild bird. The scientific study of birds where interfering with the birds is needed requires a special permit.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


New Jersey is part of the Atlantic flyway of bird migration and is known to be good for migrating hawks and songbirds.

There are many beautiful natural areas that are good for birding in New Jersey. Some are at higher elevations and near the Appalachian Trail. The barrier island and spots near Delaware Bay are productive. New Jersey is a good place for any bird watcher.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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