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Watching Wildlife

Information about how and where to view wildlife in New Jersey.

Image of Volunteers Bunny and Elmer Clegg watch a pair of Bald eagles in the distance.Zoom+ Volunteers Bunny and Elmer Clegg watch a pair of Bald eagles in the distance.

So you want to watch wildlife - now, the first challenge is where to find it. This is when it is important to learn a little bit about the wildlife you are interested in watching - what habitat does it live in, what time of year is it present, what does it eat, etc. Once you learn this information, you can make an educated guess as to where to go and view this animal. Natural history information about wildlife can be found on the internet, such as in our on-line field guide to New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species. And don’t forget about the good old-fashioned field guidebooks found at the library or book store. Word-of-mouth is also often very helpful, especially if you are seeking information regarding local wildlife – in which case, you should consult with locals, especially those who have been in the area for a long time.

Making excursions into far-away parks or forests is not always necessary for viewing wildlife. In fact, you may be able to observe a large number of diverse species within your own yard. Of course, the larger the yard and the more diverse the habitat within it, the higher the likelihood of wildlife occurring there. However, there are things which you can do to improve the likelihood of wildlife coming into your yard. If you create habitat, you may be able to make a small yard, or even just a flowerbed, as attractive to wildlife as a large yard might be.


You can entice wildlife into your yard through several methods. First, you can provide shelter. Nest boxes, bat houses, wood piles, and even trees and shrubs may provide homes to wildlife. Second, you can provide water and/or food. Providing bird baths, artificial ponds, bird feeders, flowers, and fruit and nut-bearing shrubs and trees are all proven methods for attracting wildlife to your yard. Many of these products (bird feeders, bird baths, etc.) may be purchased or you can do-it-yourself. Planting the appropriate native flowers may attract hummingbirds and butterflies while creating a home-made pond could provide a home to frogs while providing drinking and bathing water to birds. A home-made bird feeder could even be something as simple as a pine cone coated with peanut butter, a woodpecker favorite.

Image of An elfin nectars on Liatris blooms.Zoom+ An elfin nectars on Liatris blooms. © Ben Wurst

If one decides to create wildlife habitat within their yard, there are a few important things to consider. If providing water, make sure that water is not left standing so that the water does not become fouled (by bird waste, etc.) and so that mosquitoes will not breed. If providing food, make sure that bird feeders are cleaned frequently, to avoid the risk of disease or food spoilage. Also, if you live in bear country, remove your bird feeders at the end of winter, so that you don’t unintentionally attract bears rather than birds to your yard.

Feeding wildlife should be limited to providing seed, suet, and peanut butter for birds, particularly songbirds and woodpeckers. Of course, small mammals, such as squirrels and chipmunks will also take advantage of such offerings. However, if you notice other wildlife, such as raccoons or skunks, visiting your feeding stations, it may be time to reevaluate your strategy. With the exception of small birds, it is generally unwise to feed wildlife and, in some cases, it is illegal and dangerous. Feeding of large mammals, including marine mammals, is unlawful and could be potentially dangerous to both yourself and the animal. Feeding of geese or sea gulls is often unlawful by local ordinance; it encourages them to flock in large numbers and contaminate the ground with large amounts of waste, creating a health hazard. Additionally, human food offered to wildlife is often unhealthy for their consumption.

If you don’t have a yard in which to create a backyard habitat, there are plenty of parks and nature centers in New Jersey where you can go and look for wildlife. Some nature centers have exhibits which provide information on local wildlife. Some nature centers may also have bird feeders, small ponds, and other habitat enhancements to encourage wildlife to congregate around areas specifically created for wildlife viewing.

Image of Freshwater wetlands of Ballanger Creek inside Bass River State Forest.Freshwater wetlands of Ballanger Creek inside Bass River State Forest. © Ben Wurst

Many of New Jersey’s parks and natural areas provide ample outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, kayaking, and bicycling. Kayaking and bicycling, while also providing great exercise, may also enable you to view areas and wildlife which might otherwise be inaccessible. Since both are non-motorized means of getting around, they provide a way of getting closer to wildlife without scaring it away with loud noise, as jet skies and motor bikes would be much more likely to do. However, as with walking and hiking trails, kayakers and bicyclers should always observe regulations and postings regarding staying within authorized areas. Such regulations may be for the benefit of sensitive wildlife as well as sensitive areas.

Responsible Wildlife Viewing

Learn how to become a responsible wildlife watcher and maximize your outdoor experiences.