Stewardship Blog

Category: News from the Sanctuaries

NJA Unstaffed Property News

Bird Diversity Flourishes in Forest Regeneration Areas

According to the Golden-winged Warbler Project (GWWP), a conservation initiative coordinated by Indiana University of PA- Research Institute, Bluewing Warbler with caterpillar and Prairie warbler in Sparta cut (PARKE)Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), “since 2012, over 500 private landowners in 5 different states have created 8,800 acres of young forest habitat through various NRCS conservation projects…” as part of a regional initiative called the Young Forest Initiative. This multi-state conservation effort is focused on creating habitat necessary to meet the critical needs of a multitude of at-risk species.

In New Jersey, several properties, both publicly and privately owned, are participating in the initiative. The majority of these NJ properties are located in the northern portion of the state, with several sites concentrated on or near Sparta Mountain in the New Jersey Highlands region. Sparta Mountain is of particular importance because of the area’s use by various resident and migratory wildlife species, including many at-risk species. In fact, the Sparta Mountain region also contains some of the last known populations of the State Endangered Golden-winged Warbler, which has suffered one of the sharpest population declines of any bird species across its entire range since the 1960s.

sparta mt forest regeneration area  (PARKE)Indiana University of PA recently released results from the Golden-winged Warbler Project’s 2017 bird monitoring of project sites in NJ. Monitoring was conducted by biologists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, the American Bird Conservancy, and NRCS. The forest treatment areas underwent science based planning to harvest trees, stimulate new growth and forest succession and create patches of young forest; providing the diversity and structure of vegetation that is needed as critical habitat components for the initiative’s target at-risk species. According to NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife Song Bird study, “Healthy forest interior nesting species, scarlet tananger, foraging in forest treatment area at sparta cut site(parke)forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages. Each group has their own role to play in maintaining the whole community over the long term.” These areas of young forest embedded in older aged forest are not only important to target at-risk species, but are also vital to life cycles of many other species, including forest breeding interior birds.

Results from the 2017 Golden-winged Warbler Project’s survey revealed that 33 bird species were detected in the treatment areas, with 13 of the species detected considered at-risk species. Of the 33 species, several are considered forest interior species. Similarly, ongoing surveys conducted at the same sites by biologists from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife found that bird species diversity doubled, and at-risk species diversity doubled in less than 3 years as a result of the creation of young forest habitat.

Photos (all taken at Sparta Mountain Forest Treatment-Regeneration Areas) by John Parke

Bobwhite in Winter in the Pinelands

On Wednesday January 10, 2018, after a week of record below freezing temperatures and the largest snow event of the season soquail covey winter far in the NJ Pinelands, NJ Audubon staff and research partners, University of Delaware, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, were able to verify only one weather related mortality of the remaining radio collared Northern Bobwhite at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. All other radio collared birds being tracked were alive.

Using telemetry, the radio collared birds were tracked and found to be together and alive as part of coveys. Tracks in the snow also verified that the quail utilize cover provided by young pines in areas where forestry had occurred, which was observed in prior years as well. The lower branches of the young pines were bent and bowed by the snow creating a patchwork of quail tracks at study stite 1-10-18evergreen “lean-tos” with the pine needles blocking out snow drifts and providing cover from wind.

Recent research has found that a severe winter weather event can have long-lasting impacts on Northern Bobwhite populations. In winter during periods of low temperatures, and ice and snow cover, Bobwhite face three significant challenges to their survival: thermo-regulation, food availability and predators. These three challenges can be overcome - provided the Bobwhite has suitable habitat.

Like many species, Northern Bobwhite need to burn more energy to stay warm in winter. However, they are unable to dig through the snow like deer or turkey to get to food sources buried beneath. Thus, quail may have to venture out into the open to look for food, which makes them more vulnerable to predation.

One way quail combat the cold and overcome these challenges is by grouping together in coveys. A covey functions as a unit: birds forage in the same area, rest together in the same cover, and roost together at night. As a covey, the birds seek out areas that provide the best cover and forage availability. These areas typically provide thick cover adjacent Answer the callto reliable food sources. The conservation group Quail Forever has found that typically “the temperature inside a high-quality shelterbelt (area of trees and shrubs that provide thick cover) – ideal cover from the cold – can be 5°F warmer.” This is consistent with observations of quail at the Pine Island study site as the quail are utilizing young pine stands for cover and are foraging in adjacent fields and forest.

Acting as a covey also provides the quail with ‘more eyes’ to detect predators, and when roosting, helps each individual maintain body heat throughout the night. When roosting, the covey forms a circle, their tails together and their heads pointing outward like spokes from a wheel hub. If disturbed, the birds flush in all directions.

ANSWER THE CALL and be part of this historic reintroduction and recovery of this beloved iconic species and support the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative! Go to NJ Audubon's Northern Bobwhite webpage: https://community.njaudubon.org/pages/quail-restoration-initiative-donation-page

Photos Courtesy of TWildlife and John Parke

NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council Member Pine Island Cranberry Company Recognized with Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

a model of Healthy Ecosystems -PICCNew Jersey Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council member Pine Island Cranberry Company, Inc. has won the prestigious Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for the Healthy Ecosystem category. This marks the third NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council member to have won the award in the Council’s 10-year history.

The Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards are the State's premier environmental awards for recognizing outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects. These awards honor and recognize individuals, businesses, nonprofits, educators, institutions, communities, youth and others who have made significant contributions to environmental protection throughout the state.

For the Healthy Ecosystems category, Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) demonstrated a commitment to and experience in programs and techniques that have resulted in the restoration, protection and enhancement of the State's ecological resources.

Specifically, Pine Island Cranberry Company, working with New Jersey Audubon and other collaborators, have been addressing the loss of critical habitat needed to support Northern Bobwhite (a bird native to the eastern United States) and other wildlife and to bring attention to the need for active forest management in New Jersey’s Pinelands. NJ Audubon nominated Pine Island Cranberry Company for the award having seen first-hand how PICC has undertaken active habitat management, producing numerous benefits for wildlife and water quality. For more than a decade PICC has been managing their forest lands under the guidance of a forest stewardship plan created Certified Forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. Integrating forest stewardship with their agricultural activities, Pine Island Cranberry Company has created a model site that embodies how healthy ecosystems should function and is providing an example of what forest stewardship coupled with agricultural productions looks like.

Earlier this year Pine Island Cranberry Company became the first recipient in NJ of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s Firebird Award, which recognizes contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild quail. Pine Island Cranberry Company has been participating over the last 3 years in a multiyear and multistate study lead in NJ by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators including: Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, University of Delaware, Pine Creek Forestry, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. This research is evaluating translocation of wild Northern Bobwhite as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of quail, positioning New Jersey for a significant effort to restore quail back to its historic range.

Commish Martin, B Williams, S Haines, J Parke, D ZimmerPine Island Cranberry, encompassing over 14,000 acres, was selected for this quail research in large part due to its undertaking of forest stewardship actions since 2001 following a state approved Forest Stewardship Plan. This forest management and habitat stewardship work was already creating areas of young forest habitat that would be suitable for quail, and many other species of plants and animals. These stewardship actions include several hundred acres of forest stand thinning and prescribed burning that have created a mosaic of healthy ecosystems. The areas that have undergone active management and stewardship are helping to establish quality habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function in the NJ Pinelands.

NJ Audubon congratulates Pine Island Cranberry Company, Inc. and would like to extend our congratulations to the rest of the 2017 Environmental Excellence Award winners and commend them for their efforts to make New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife!

Praying Mantis - Indiscriminate Predator

Hiking in a meadow in Sussex County over the weekend, I came upon a small semi-hard grayish-yellow mass attached to a goldenrod stem. This “foam-like” cube was an egg case of a praying mantis.  However, I was not as excited as some may think, because the majority of mantids in New Jersey are invasive species, specifically the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia subspecies sinensis) mantis eats monarch(Parke)and the European Mantis (Mantis religiosa).

As with most invasive species, these two non-native insects pose an interesting threat to some of our most important pollinators, because of their indiscriminate predatory behavior and voracious appetite!

According to The Kauffman Guide to Insects of North America, "The Chinese Mantis entered the U.S. as early as 1896. It is still deliberately introduced to many areas as a (pest)control agent. Its efficacy is questionable, as it is an indiscriminate predator, taking beneficial insects as well as pests." A much larger mantid (nearly twice the length of the European and Carolina Mantis) the Chinese mantis has a vertically striped face, bold green stripe along the edge of the forewing and a yellow spot between the arms.

Another introduced species in NJ is the European mantis. This mantis species was first brought here, accidentally, in 1899 on nursery stock from southern Europe, but was latter imported to the US in the 1930’s in commercially sold egg cases for garden insect control, as well as, later used as a biological control for Gypsy Moth in the eastern US. This species can be recognized by a black-ringed white spot on the inside of the front legs near the head and thin red and white “racing-strip” along the forewing.

praying mantis egg caseA native mantis of NJ is the Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), which can be identified by its small size (2-3 inches), mottled green or brown color and small wings, which when folded only cover about half of its abdomen.

Aside from their physical attributes, the shape of the mantis egg case (called the ootheca) can also be used to identify each species. The ootheca of the Chinese mantis are “cube-ish” and are as long as chinese mantis eating catapillerthey are wide. Where the native Carolina mantis’ ootheca is elongated and slender.

Born from egg cases, and as ravenous as their parents, the young mantises’ first meal is often their siblings! As they grow, shedding their skin 5 to 6 times, they use their strong front legs to capture not only spiders and insects (including butterflies, moths, and bees), but larger mantises such as the Chinese mantis have been observed to catch and devour small vertebrates including, amphibians, lizards, snakes, mice and small birds!

Reports of mantises preying on birds dates back to 1864, however more recent studies conducted between 2000 and 2015 that appeared in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, indicated that in total, about 24 species of birds chinese mantis eating hummingbirdwere identified as mantis prey. This group included hummingbirds and small passerines — perching birds such as sparrows and finches.  The study indicated that “once a bird was caught, its fate was as good as sealed, with only 2 percent able to free themselves from the insect's clutches without human intervention.” Most notable in the study was that the birds most often captured and eaten by mantises in North America were the ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Although both native and non-native mantids are deadly predators that will use hummingbird feeders and wildflower gardens as their personal buffets, it is good to realize that the predator prey relationships are complex and can have strong indirect and cascading effects on ecosystem functions.

Additionally, contrary to popular belief, mantises are not protected by any state or federal laws.

Photos by John Parke

Photo of Mantis Eating Hummingbird by Kathy Cantafio


Eaton, E., Kauffman, K., 2007, Kauffman Guide to Insects of North America,

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders (1989)

Nyffeler, M., Maxwell, M., Remsen, Jr., J.V., 2016, Bird Predation by Praying Mantises: A Global Perceptive, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129(2):331-344. 2017

New Jersey Audubon Receives Two Awards for Delaware River Watershed Initiative Efforts

For the third time in four years, the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department has won the prestigious “Firman E. Bear Ecological Excellence Award,” given by the New Jersey Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society in partnership with Pinelands Nursery. The award recognizes excellence in an ecological restoration project that implements unique soil and water conservation practices with innovative habitat enhancements.

In addition, the same project has been awarded the “Excellence Water Resources Award” given by the New Jersey Section of the American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA). The Excellence Award recognizes projects that advance water resources research, planning, development, clip_image001management and education.

New Jersey Audubon’s use of bulrush on the project to address both a water resource concern and a critical habitat concern is a great example of efficient collaborative conservation intervention that is part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, an unprecedented collaboration supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Working together, New Jersey Audubon, the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority/Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (SCMUA-WRWMG) and the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg planted more than 10,000 native plants along a tributary of the Paulin’s Kill River that runs through an active farm pasture in the Delaware River Watershed.

The choice of plants is a careful balance. The plantings must help improve water quality and control soil erosion, but also must be compatible with the needs of native species and their habitats. For example, the use of trees and other woody vegetation, which would typically be used for bank stabilization, are not always compatible with some native species habitats, such as that of the federally-listed bog turtle.

clip_image002“Trees and other woody vegetation are not always the answer for riparian restorations, you have to consider the habitat needs of the species living there, so for this project the type of plant we used at the site was dark green bulrush,” explained John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “Bulrush is a native plant that is commonly found in bog turtle habitat in this region.  By planting it along the banks of the stream it not only helps stabilize the stream banks and prevent soil erosion but it also provides important food and cover for wildlife.  Although bulrush can be grazed and is not harmful for livestock, it is not preferred by livestock.  Thus livestock tend to leave it alone and in doing so, the area that was planted with bulrush allowed the native seed bank to grow naturally which improved biodiversity, habitat and general wetland function on site.  Additionally, bulrush naturally removes excess phosphorus from water, through its root system. This use of a plant to remove the excess nutrient pollution is termed phytoremediation.”

Excess phosphorus is a major part of nutrient pollution, which according to the US EPA, is “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.”  Although, phosphorous is a natural and essential part of ecosystems, too much can pollute the water by leading algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle.  Excess algae can harm water quality by decreasing the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.  Additionally, significant increases of algae in our water can also impact human health, food resources, and thus impact a region’s economy.

“New Jersey Audubon has a long history of doing good ecological work, in partnership with other organizations, that encourages similar projects elsewhere,” added Tom Drewes, retired former State Conservationist of New Jersey for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and coordinator of the Firman award judging. “Our Soil and Water Conservation Society Chapter, in collaboration with Pinelands Nursery, is happy to provide this award in recognition of their accomplishment.”

“Not only did NJ Audubon’s project address phosphorous loading in the bog turtle habitat, which in itself is an important water quality improvement,” says Rebecca Traylor, Secretary of the NJ-AWRA and an award judge, “it exposed young adults to water resources careers and practical science with hands-on experience by engaging the New Jersey Youth Corps. The project truly epitomizes our mission.”

New Jersey Audubon would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to the New Jersey chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and NJ Section of the American Water Resources Association and their respective committees for selecting the project for the awards and their support to encourage science-based conservation practices, programs, and policy.

NJA also would like to thank the project property owner the Joritsma family and the other organizations and agencies, that also played an important role on implementing various conservation practices on the project site to improve water quality and critical habitat for a rare species, they include the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and USDA-NRCS. Finally we would like to thank our grant funders the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their financial support for the project as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.”

NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, as well as distribute more free native plant materials. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands region (the Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org.

Photos by John Parke

clip_image003Project Site during bulrush install spring 2016 (top photo)

clip_image004Project Site now in summer 2017 (bottom photo)

Pine Island Cranberry Co. Receives NJ’s First NBCI Firebird Award

Bill Haines, Jr. owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) of Chatsworth, NJ was the recipient of New Jersey’s first ever jim sloan, stef haines, john parke, firebird awardNational Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Award. The award, presented at the NJ Fish and Game Council Meeting by James Sloan, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) Upland Habitat/Game Biologist and NJ Coordinator of NBCI, recognizes entities and/or an individual’s contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite.

“The work done at Pine Island Cranberry Company over the years through active forest stewardship, combined with their participation in the national Bobwhite Quail recovery initiative could very well change the reintroduction effort in the Mid-Atlantic region for the species,” said Sloan.

According to NBCI, the award’s name, “Fire Bird”, symbolizes the historic reliance of Bobwhites on fire in much of its range to maintain the landscape in an “early successional” stage, that is, in the native grasses, wildflowers and young forest providing bobwhites with suitable habitat. The term “Fire Bird” in relation to Bobwhites was first coined by naturalist Herbert Stoddard, who researched bobwhites and worked to restore bobwhite habitat in the early 20th Century.

“PICC’s landscape characteristics, achieved by meticulously performing the conservation practices and prescriptions in their NJDEP approved Forest Stewardship Plan, are a natural match for the Bobwhite. The actions that Bill Haines Jr. and the PICC have taken will continue to create and enhance high quality habitat for the species in the years ahead as plan implementation progresses,” said John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “NJ Audubon congratulates Bill Haines, Jr and the staff at Pine Island Cranberry Company, on receiving this well-deserved award and commends PICC and PICC’s forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, for their efforts to establish quality habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” Parke added.

One of the translocated Bobwhite with radio collar at Pine Island CranberryBeginning in 2015, PICC, along with project partners NJ Audubon, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, the University of Delaware and Pine Creek Forestry conducted the first release of wild Northern Bobwhite translocated from Georgia to the PICC study site. To date, a total of 240 wild birds have been released and radio tracked via telemetry at the PICC site. This has resulted in 39 nests (1st confirmed nesting of wild Northern Bobwhite in the Pinelands since the 1980s), and 117 confirmed chicks. The project also demonstrated that translocated quail can over-winter from year to year. Additionally, researchers documented double-clutching nesting, where the male bird incubates while the female goes on to lay a second nest. These successes reflect the quality of habitat on the PICC site brought about through thoughtful and active land management and stewardship. By performing active management on the land, a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging were created, allowing for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.

“We are honored to receive this recognition, but it is an even greater honor to participate in the project with partners like NJ Audubon, the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife,” said Stefanie Haines of Pine Island Cranberry, receiving the award on behalf of her father. “We are proud that our stewardship practices benefit not only our business and our home, but the wildlife which surrounds us as well,” added Haines.

Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative

Photos Courtesy of NJ Audubon

First Bobwhite Quail Nests of 2017 Discovered at Pine Barrens Study Site

New Jersey Audubon has been steadfastly working, with its project collaborators (Tall Timbers Research Station, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) over the past three years to study translocation as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of Bobwhite Quail back in New Jersey.  In wildlife conservation,  the term ‘Translocation’ means the capture, transport and release/introduce a species from one area to another with the ultimate goals of species population persistence and resilience at the release area.  In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite Quail was once a common species, however it is now believed to be functionally extinct in the state, thus translocation offers an option to “jump-start” the species on the road to recovery in its former home in NJ.

1st hatched quail nest of 2017Today, with researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail Translocation Study Site in Chatsworth, New Jersey Audubon has confirmed the hatching of two Bobwhite Quail nests.  

Twenty chicks were confirmed to have left the nest and were seen with adults. bobwhite quail chicks 

More exciting news came from the field today, as three more active nests (i.e. quail incubating eggs) were discovered at the study site, bringing the total nests for the season to 11.  

One of the hatchings was a milestone for the project; it marked the first double clutch of a translocated bird in New Jersey over the three-year project. 

Answer the callIt also marked the first time for the project in which a male successfully incubated the clutch to fruition. This particular nest had an unfortunate situation where the female was depredated during her second clutch egg laying – hence only 9 eggs were laid (typically Bobwhite typically lay between 12 and 16 eggs).  However the male finished out the incubation and successfully hatched 8 of the 9 eggs. 

Reproductive success is a critical component of the translocation project,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “We are very excited to confirm the successful hatching of a double clutch nest, and a male successfully incubating to completion, because it reflects the quality of habitat on site that was achieved through the management.  By performing active management on the land a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging allows for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.”

Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative 

Photos by Phil Coppola and Gylla MacGregor 

Bobwhite Nest for Third Consecutive Year at NJA Pine Barren Study Site

The first quail nest of 2017 was discovered by NJA’s researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Study Site in Chatsworth, Burlington County. The nest, as well as1st 2017 nest at PI (phil Coppola) three more discovered in June, marks the third consecutive year of successful breeding by the translocated birds; further evidence of a turning tide in Bobwhite Quail recovery in New Jersey.

“We have seen a substantial decline in quail and yet, with proper habitat management, we believe we can bring them back, which is why we are bringing them in to reestablish their population,” explained John Cecil, Vice President for Stewardship, NJA.

2017 marks the third year of release of wild Bobwhite captured from Georgia and translocated to the Pine Island Quail flush at PIC (photo by John Parke)Cranberry study site in Chatsworth, NJ.  Since the spring release, the birds have been tracked via radio telemetry by researchers from the University of Delaware contracted by NJA.  One exciting element to the radio tracking this season  is that four 2016 released quail (that still have working radio collars) have been confirmed to have paired up with this year’s released birds! Additionally, one uncollared bird, which indicates an offspring from previous years, has also paired up with a 2017 released bird!

“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Answer the callStewardship Project Director - North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings and successfully nest is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management. We are excited by the progress of the project, the hard work of the project partners and collaborators and eager to see Bobwhite thrive again in New Jersey,” he added.

ANSWER THE CALL and be part of this historic reintroduction and recovery of this beloved iconic species and support the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative! Go to NJ Audubon's Bobwhite Quail webpage: https://community.njaudubon.org/pages/quail-restoration-initiative-donation-page

Photos by Phil Coppola and John Parke

Snow Geese Arrive At Wattles Stewardship Center

Snow Geese in Corn Stubble in Warren CountyThe first Snow Geese of the season arrived yesterday (November 29, 2016) at the Wattles Stewardship Center in Port Murray, Warren County, NJ.  The ten radiantly white birds stood out, almost regal-like, among a flock of Canada Geese, as they grazed in the corn stubble of a recently harvested farm field along the Musconetcong River. 

For several years now Snow Geese have been descending upon Warren County’s farm fields each winter, particularly around the areas of Merrill Creek Reservoir, the Musconetcong River valley, Lopatcong Creek, and the Alpha Grasslands, thousands of snow geese flying over Wattles Center in 2013choosing to utilize the region as wintering grounds. Sometimes numbers of these geese are in the 10’s of thousands.

For some “non-birder” types, you may not know that “other” geese species, like the Snow Goose visit New Jersey.  According to the official New Jersey Bird Records Committee, eight different species of goose have been sighted in NJ.  They include: Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Brant, Barnacle Goose, Cackling Goose and Canada Goose. (To see the official accepted list of not just the goose species but all bird species in NJ see:  http://www.njbrc.net/)

But for the most part, many New Jerseyans are very familiar with only the Canada Goose since this bird can be found throughout the year in New Jersey in every possible landscape available – from backyards to urban parks and corporate lawns to coastal areas, farm fields, rivers, ponds and lakes.  Canada Geese are everywhere, in fact there are so many, that in some areas of the state they have been implicated as the cause for impaired water quality, human health concerns, airline safety issues and severe crop and natural resource damage.  Water quality however has become the biggest issue associated with high goose populations because of there droppings.  A goose can produce up to ¾ of a pound of droppings per day and depending on sizes of local flocks and waterways, environmental impacts can be quite severe, especially if concentrated in an area.  These stressors to water quality from large geese populations include increased nutrient levels and sedimentation and erosion (because of removal of vegetation at the edge of bank on water bodies due to grazing). Goose manure has also been linked to rising E. coli levels in the water, but the most notable ingredient in goose manure is phosphorous.  Excess phosphorus can lead to algae blooms and low oxygen levels in water bodies.

What is fascinating about our resident Canadian Geese is that about 40 years ago, Canada Geese were considered, more or less, only a spring and fall migrant in NJ.  Although some Canadian Geese were purposely released in areas in NJ in the early and mid 1900’s, many wildlife experts believe that with the large expanses of lawn areas created by suburban sprawl and corporate development of the post-1970’s NJ landscape and changes in weather / temperature patterns over the years is what turned NJ into perfect goose habitat and created a situation where Canada Geese became a common winter resident and then transitioned to reside, nest and thrive here year long.   Because of these changes to NJ’s landscape, many Canada Geese no longer need to undergo the risky process of migration when they can stay here year-round and have all of their life-cycle needs met with ease.  According to the most recent available records (2014) the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife has estimated that there are around 75,000 resident Canada Geese in NJ (this does not count migrants that may winter here or pass through).

blue phase snow gooseNow enter the Snow Goose, which is a medium-sized white goose with black wing tips and a pink bill, that nests in the Arctic tundra but is considered a common migrant in NJ and winters here. Snow geese although usually white in color can sometimes have dark plumage which is known as the “Blue Goose”.  This color variant in a Snow Goose creates gray-blue body feathers and a white head (sometimes white belly feathers are also exhibited).  This color phase is controlled by a single gene that makes dark colors partially dominant over white.

In the past, Snow Geese wintered on the salt marshes and farm fields of southern NJ along the Atlantic coast and Delaware Bay shores.  But over the last 20 years or so they have become increasingly common throughout the state in winter, including large flocks spending time on various inland reservoirs, freshwater lakes, agricultural fields and park or corporate lawn areas in Central and North Jersey.

A strong flyer and swimmer, Snow Geese are also strong “long-distance” walkers.  At home in the tundra, Snow Goose goslings have been known to walk up to 50 miles with their parents to look for more suitable rearing areas within the first three weeks of hatching!  In the arctic it is mostly the Snow Goose goslings that have a plethora of predators to contend with, from raptors, gulls and jaegers to bears, wolves and arctic foxes.  Here on their NJ wintering grounds its foxes, coyotes and eagles that are the main predatory concerns for the adults.  However Snow Geese have a defense in which they call out to the rest of the flock when a predator is sighted, whereupon the entire flock takes flight causing a “whiteout” of sorts to confuse the predator from concentrating on attacking a single individual.

Thousands of Snow geese next to Musconetcong River, Warren County, NJ 2008Snow Geese are voracious eaters, with females being noted to forage up to eighteen hours a day.  They are vegetarians that eat grasses, rushes, sedges, forbs, small shrubs and even small willows. Studies show that a Snow Goose will eat almost any part of a plant including its seeds, stems, leaves, tubers and roots.  They do this either by grazing the tops of new growth, shearing off plants flush to the ground or ripping the entire plant from the ground.  They are also known to eat grains, berries and young stems of farm crops (such as winter wheat) in winter and during migration.  As one would expect, with this high fiber diet of plant material, food passes through a Snow Goose’s system in only about an hour or two.  According to research this equates to a Snow Goose generating six to fifteen droppings per hour.  The same study indicates that its defecation rate increases when a Snow Goose is searching for roots with its bill because it inevitably swallows mud.

Because of their insatiable appetite in many areas of the arctic, the increased numbers of snow geese now surpass the ability of the arctic grass/sedge habitat there to support them.  As the more productive forage areas are overgrazed and ruined, snow geese move on to find new areas that most likely are less productive and more prone to being destroyed. This habitat destruction impacts not only the Snow Goose, but other bird and wildlife species that depend on that type of vegetation for breeding, foraging and nesting. Also by overgrazing and removing the ground cover from the arctic soils, the soil is then more exposed and prone to evaporation.  Thus with less moisture in the arctic soils, salinization (salt build-up) takes place in the soil.  With increased salt build up in the arctic soils, scientists have documented numerous native arctic plants not growing back to these areas destroyed by Snow Geese overgrazing.

Thousands of snow geese land in a farm field adjacent to the Musconetcong RiverWhen you consider that Snow Goose numbers have grown quickly since the mid-twentieth century on their nesting grounds (in some cases by a factor of 25), and that they now have caused serious vegetation destruction to their historical nesting grounds (over grazing and denuded soils) causing them to expand their range in search of new suitable breeding/foraging areas and that they learned to exploit human-created food sources along their migration and wintering areas, is it possible that like its cousin, the Canada Goose, it too will ultimately take up permanent residence in the Garden State?  Only time will tell.

Native Tall Warm-Season Grass Field planted at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Lopatcong Creek WatershedA common solution to help deter geese from congregating in and around water bodies is habitat modification.  By reducing low open areas such as lawns and/or maintaining or installing trees, shrubs or tall grasses (such as native warm-season grass) along water bodies, geese are more likely to avoid these areas because the taller vegetation can conceal predators and encumber a goose’s ability to fly for a quick escape.  Not only does maintaining a dense vegetative buffer between a goose's “food” source (i.e. a lawn, crop fields, etc.) and a water body (an escape route) effectively help reduce and/or eliminate large flocks of geese from gathering around water bodies, these buffer areas provide habitat for many other native species of wildlife, as well as, provide water quality benefits by absorbing excess nutrient run-off and help control soil erosion and sedimentation.   NJ Audubon is currently working in the NJ Highlands Region as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) to help improve water quality, while also seeking balance for habitat needs for numerous wildlife species.  Through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forestry/agricultural Best Management Practices, as well as distribute free native plant materials (trees, grass, etc.), especially for riparian and wetland restorations. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands Region (the Lower Musconetcong, Lopatcong Creek and the Upper Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment, this includes impairment linked to geese.  For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org

All photos by John Parke


Fleming, R, Eng, P., Fraser, H. 2001, The Impact of Waterfowl on Water Quality, University of Guelph
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NJDFW 2014-2015 Migratory Bird Season Information and Population report

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USFWS, US Waterfowl Population Status Report 2016

NJ Bobwhite Quail Translocation Project Gets Exposure on National Level

University of Delaware graduate research students, Kaili Stevens (MS research assistant) and Philip Coppola (Ph.D. research assistant), who are working with NJ Audubon at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail translocation study site, recently presented project overviews and related studies associated with the project at two national conferences.

In October 2016, Kaili presented information on the study: “Winter Survival and Habitat Selection of Translocated Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic” at The Wildlife Society’s 23rd Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. This study, in relation to the overall translocation project initiative, will help identify the viability of translocating bobwhite into northern managed pine systems versus managed agricultural areas, as well as, aid in identifying the effect of pine management on wintering (Oct-March) northern bobwhite survival and habitat use.

LLA_Poster_FINALIn November, Kaili and Phil will be both presenting at the 2016 Longleaf Alliance Biannual Regional Conference in Savannah, Georgia on “Evaluating the Efficacy of Using Translocation to Recover Bobwhite Populations in the New Jersey Pine Barrens”.  

Congratulations to Kaili and Phil, and to our project partners, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company and the NJDFW.

For more information on the overall Bobwhite Quail translocation project and how you can help support the project click here

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