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Bird Checklists of the United States

Birds of Cape May County

Cape May, New Jersey


Cape May National Wildlife refuge is one of the newest refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. It was established in January 1989. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the refuge's first (90-acre) parcel from the Nature Conservancy in June of that year. Since then the refuge has grown to more than 8,000 acres, as the Service continues to buy land. And we are still growing! Ultimately, the refuge will protect 16,700 acres of precious wildlife habitat in New Jersey's Cape May Peninsula. Cape May National Wild- life Refuge's key location in the Atlantic Flyway makes it an important link in the vast nationwide network of national wildlife refuges administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It will ensure availability of critical habitat to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds each year, as these long-distance flyers travel along the New Jersey coast.

Because of its importance to migratory waterfowl, the Cape May refuge has been designated a "Flagship Project" of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan: a far-reaching inter- national agreement to conserve and restore millions of acres of wetland habitats throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This massive project is a partnership of private individuals and businesses, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies.

At the local level, the refuge also plays an active role in the long-term protection of a vital, multi-agency-administered greenbelt corridor reaching from the Delaware Bay to Great Egg Harbor Bay.

The refuge has two separate divisions. The Delaware Bay Division is located in Middle Town- ship, and extends along five miles of the Delaware Bay. The Great Cedar Swamp Division straddles Dennis and Upper Townships.

The 16,700-acre proposed acquisition area contains a wide range of habitats, including upland and lowland forests, fields, barrier beach, salt marsh and salt meadows cut through by meandering tidal creeks.


Cape May National Wildlife Refuge provides critical habitat to a wide variety of migratory birds and other wildlife. It supports 317 bird species, 42 mammal species, 55 reptile and amphibian species, and numerous fish, shellfish and other invertebrates. Its value for the protection of migratory birds and their habitat will continue to grow as other lands along the Jersey Shore are turned into roads, shopping centers and housing developments.

Cape May Peninsula's unique configuration and location concentrate songbirds, raptors, and woodcocks as they funnel south to Cape May Point during their fall migration. Faced with 12 miles of water to cross at the Delaware bay, migrants linger in the area to rest and feed until favorable winds allow them to cross the Bay or head north along the Bay's eastern shore.


The refuge's five-mile stetch along the Delaware Bay is a major resting and feeding area for migrating shorebirds each spring. The Delaware Bay shoreline has gained international recog- nition as a major shorebird staging area in North America, second only to the Copper River Delta in Alaska. Each year hundreds of thousands of shorebirds - nearly 80 percent of some populations - stop to rest and feed here during their spring migration from Central and South America to their Arctic breeding grounds.

The arrival at Cape May of more than twenty shorebird species - primarily red knots, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, and semipalmated sandpipers - coincides with the horseshoe crab spawning season, which occurs in May/early June. The crab eggs provide an abundant food supply which these long-distance flyers use to replenish their energy reserves before moving on. (In May virtually the entire North American red knot population gathers along Cape May Peninsula beaches!)

Because of the Delaware Bay Estuary's value to waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds, in 1992 it was designated a Wetland of International Improtance, under the The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance - otherwise known as the Ramsar Convention.


Neotropical migrants - birds that spend their summers in Canada and the U.S., and their winters in Mexico, the Carribean, Central America, and South America - use Cape May Peninsula's varied habitats in great abundance during their long and difficult migrations. Due to loss of habitat throughout much of their range, many of these species have been in ongoing decline. Almost 100 neotropical songbird species stop to rest and feed along the Cape May Peninsula, most often using forest habitats. Many songbird species also nest here - inlcuding ovenbirds, veerys, wood thrushes, yellow-throated vireos, and cerulean warblers. When Cape May National Wildlife Refuge's proposed acquisitions are completed, approximately 12,500 of its 16,700 acres will be forests and fields - providing critical resources for these tiny long-distance travelers.


Cape May Peninsula is renowned for its spectacular raptor migrations each fall. During this period great numbers of 15 raptor species are commonly seen, including peregrine falcons, ospreys, northern harriers, American kestrels, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks. Because many raptors do not choose to cross such large bodies of water as the Delaware Bay, many use the bayshore upland forest edge as a migration corridor.

All raptor species found in southern New Jersey occur on the refuge. Some, like the red-tailed hawk, frequent the refuge year round. Owl populations make extensive use of Cape May's woodland habitats in winter, and some species - such as the barred owl - also nest here.


During fall migration, these unique upland shorebirds concentrate in massive numbers in Cape May's moist woodlands and thickets. They use such habitats for foraging, replenishing their fat reserves by eating more than their weight in earthworms daily. On the Altantic Coast only Cape Charles, Virginia hosts comparable concentrations of woodcock. The refuge provides excellent resting and feeding habitat for this interesting species. (The woodcock - also known in some parts of the country as a "timber doodle" - walks as though it were doing the rumba.)


Bald eagles and peregrine falcons - both on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants and Animals - use the refuge's protected habitats, and are commonly seen during migration. Bald eagles historically nested on areas within the refuge acquisition boundary. New Jersey State-listed species confirmed within the refuge boundary include ospreys, short- eared owls, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, grasshopper sparrows, great and little blue herons, red-headed woodpeckers, sedge wrens, yellow-crowned night herons, northern harriers, black rails, pine barrens tree frogs, Eastern tiger and mud salamanders, corn snakes, northern pine snakes, and bog turtles.

Swamp pink - a unique lily family member which is on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants and Animals - also occurs on the refuge, as do 34 State-listed plant species.


Cape May National Wildlife Refuge's marshes and tidal creeks provide important nursery areas and nutrient resources for many popular species of finfish and shellfish, including summer flounder, weakfish, striped bass, blue crabs and lady crabs. These fisheries provide abundant resources for wildlife, as well as for people. Seventy percent of the species sought by recreational and commercial fishermen depend on shallow water habitats for at least part of their life cycle.


While more than half the wetlands in the United States have been destroyed, many people still wonder why we should protect our wetland resources. The refuge's protected wetlands not only provide critical resources for fish, wildlife and plants. They also provide many benefits for people. They hold up storm surge and flood waters, this protecting communities behind them; they discharge ground water supplies even during the drier times, when we most need it; they protect our water quality by filtering out impurities. The aesthetic and recreational pleasures, the educational benefits these dwindling, unique habitats provide for us are very important.


Refuge visitors are welcome to enjoy a wide range of wildlife-dependent activities here. The refuge headquarters is located at 24 Kimbles Beach Road in Cape May Court House, and is open weekdays from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Since the refuge is so new, there are few public use facilities in place. Existing foot trails through the refuge's varied habitats provide excellent opportunities for bird watching, photo- graphy, and enviromental education. (In fact, Cape May Peninsula has been described as one of the ten top birding spots in North America!) We suggest trails at the end of Bobwhite Lane and Woodcock Lane, off Route 47 in Middle Township. Best wildlife viewing opportunities occur in Spring and Fall.

Currently seasonal deer and migratory game bird hunting are allowed in designated areas of the refuge, under State and Federal regulations. Please contact refuge headquarters for additional information, regulations and maps.

During hunting seasons, which may occur September through February, visitors should be aware that mixed uses occur on the refuge.



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