Nature and Science Events
New Jersey's diverse habitats
attract hundreds of different species of birds.
From the ocean and saltwater marshes of the coast to the
pine and hardwood forests of the north, millions of birds make a home
or at least a brief migratory stopover in New Jersey. Northern New
Jersey is particularly interesting due to the many different ecoregions found there.
In the Northeastern coastal plain are the meadowlands ,
a brackish, swampy area, where egrets, Great Blue Herons and many other
wading birds thrive. Rare birds to the northeast are found here such as
the American Avocet. Traveling westward,
Sparrows and House Finches rule the roost of the
suburban, bedroom communities. In the Northwest corner of New Jersey,
Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse are very common through the forests and
Some archeologists believe birds
to be the descendants of dinosaurs.
One of the best ways to find out which birds are in your
area is to set up an outdoor bird feeder. Different birds can be
attracted by experimenting with the types and mixtures of seed you fill
your bird feeder. Smaller birds are attracted to millet and hemp seed
while larger birds such as Blue Jays and Cardinals prefer safflower and
Squirrels also like seed and can eat quite a bit in a
short time. Squirrels can destroy a birdfeeder in minutes that is not
sturdy enough. Many types of squirrel deterrents are available
including seed with cayenne pepper. Squirrels will avoid seed with
cayenne pepper, but birds are not affected by it. Another type of
shield is a domed physical barrier placed on top of the feeder. Other
squirrel shields include a metal cage around the feeder or weight
sensitive doors which close the feeder when a squirrel triggers the
Common Birdfeeder Visitors
Male and female Blue Jays are similar in appearance.
Blue Jays are common visitors to bird feeders in New
Jersey. They are easy to spot because of their blue color. They are
approximately 12 inches (~29 cm) in length. Both sexes are similar in
color; blue crest, blue wings and tail with white-spots, and a
gray-white breast. The Blue Jay has a black "necklace" and black
striping on the tail.
With their sharp, black beaks and apparent
aggressiveness, Blue Jays can dominate the birdfeeder when they arrive.
Blue Jays are attracted by Sunflower and Safflower seed. Blue Jays are
omnivores and their diet ranges from acorns and sunflower seeds to
frogs and snails. They often visit feeders in search of suet and
birdseed and are fond of bathing in birdbaths. Nests are built in the
crotch of a tree and are rather bulky and made of leaves, dry grasses,
and bark. The breeding season occurs from April to July and the female
lays 3-5 eggs which are olive or pale green and spotted with brown and
Blue Jays are in the family Corvidae, along with crows
and magpies, and are very clever birds. Experiments with captive birds
have shown that they are capable of counting, are good at solving
puzzles, and quickly learn to associate noises and symbols with food*.
Male Cardinals are brightly colored while the female (bottom right) and
young are a brown, buff color with red accents.
Cardinals are usually thought of as being bright red
birds, but females and young are noticeably different. The female is a
brown/brown gold with red on the wing tips, tail and tip of the crest.
An adult male Cardinal is a bright red crested bird. They both share a
heavy, orange bill with a black mask from the base of bill to the eyes.
A juvenile Cardinal is similar to the female but lacks the black mask,
the red at the tip of the crest, and has a darker, almost black bill.
Adult Cardinals are slightly smaller than Blue Jays at about 9 inches
(~20 cm) in length. Cardinals have an unusual trait in that both male
and female have birdsong. In most temperate climate bird species, only
the male sings. Another interesting fact is that the female cardinals
appear to learn more songs faster than males.**
Cardinals share the same family as finches and can be
attracted to bird feeders with Sunflower and Safflower seed mixes.
Male and Female Black-Capped Chickadees are similar in appearance
Black-Capped Chickadees are common visitors to
birdfeeders and are attracted by sunflower seeds and suet. Chickadees
forage over twigs and under tree bark for insect eggs, ants, beetles
and caterpillars. They will also eat wild fruit. Chickadees are in the
same family as Tufted Titmouse (see below).
Chickadees are usually no larger than four to five
inches; small, curious, and relatively tame. The Chickadee is white
breasted with gray wings and long grey tail having a distinctive black
"cap" and "bib". Chickadees travel in gangs, so if you see one at your
birdfeeder, there are probably more lurking nearby. Chickadees and
other members of their family are very acrobatic and can put on quite a
The call of the Black-capped Chickadee is one of the
most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom. Depending on slight
variations in the phrases, the call can convey separate, unique
messages: in addition to acting as a contact call or as an alarm call,
chickadees also use their call to relay information about an
individual's identity or to indicate that they recognize a particular
These birds are cavity nesters, meaning they utilize a
hollow of a rotting tree to lay their 5-7 white eggs that are dotted
The female American Goldfinch differs from the male by its color and
lack of a "black cap".
During the spring and summer months, the male Goldfinch
is immediately recognizable by it's bright yellow color with black
wings. During the winter months, the Goldfinch loses it's bright colors
but is still easy to identify by it's black wings with white bars. The
female is olive-yellow and lacks a black cap. The Goldfinches'
distinctive colors give it the nickname "wild canary".
Finches belong to the family Fringillidae, taken from
the Latin word fringilla, meaning "small bird". These birds are seed
eaters and Some of their preferred seeds include thistle, golden rod,
and sunflower. Goldfinches live together in flocks.
The goldfinch builds a typical cup-shaped nest of
tightly woven materials which is attached to a small twig. The female
lays 4-5 unmarked, pale blue eggs*.
The White-Breasted Nuthatch is easy to spot as it usually climbs down
tree trunks headfirst
The Nuthatch is quite an acrobat and can spotted
characteristically climbing down trees headfirst. Males and females are
similar, although the male has a darker cap on it's head. The
white-breasted nuthatch is 5-6 inches long with a wingspan of 10
Nuthatches range throughout most of North America and
feed on insects, seed and nuts. They can be attracted by sunflower
seeds and suet.
Nuthatches spend most of their time in large trees or
woodlots eating insects in the spring and summer and nuts such as
acorns and sunflowers in the fall and winter*.
They nest in natural tree cavities at least 15 feet
above the ground. Nuthatches lay 5-8 white eggs marked with brown, red,
purple, or gray. The White-breasted Nuthatch exhibits an unusual
behavior referred to as "bill sweeping." This bird will pick up an
insect, a piece of fur, or a piece of vegetation in its bill and sweep
the bark around its nest cavity. The purpose may be to mask its own
scent around the nest preventing detection by predators, such as
The Tufted Titmouse is attracted to Sunflower and Safflower seed
The Tufted Titmouse is a relative of the Chickadee and,
like the Chickadee, travels in little gangs or bands of five or six
birds. Titmice also share the mouse-gray body, but differ in having a
crest, not the black cap of the chickadee. Titmice feed on insects and
berries as well as seeds.
The Tufted Titmouse often chases away birds that are the
same size or smaller at feeders. During the winter, the titmouse hides
food in tree bark crevasses.