Wildlife & Habitat

  • Shorebirds

    Red knot and horseshoe crab - Virginia Rettig/USFWS.

    The refuge's five-mile stretch along the Delaware Bay is a major resting and feeding area for migrating shorebirds and wading birds each spring. The Delaware Bay shoreline is a major shorebird staging area in North America second only to the Copper River Delta in Alaska! Each year hundreds of thousands of shorebirds 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 Delaware Bay beaches!)

  • Songbirds / Neotropical Migrants

    Pine warbler - USFWS.

    Neotropical migrants (birds that spend their summers in Canada and the U.S. and their winters in Mexico, the Caribbean, 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 are in 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 including ovenbirds, wood thrushes, and yellow-throated warblers.

  • American Woodcock

    American woodcock - Heidi Hanlon/USFWS.

    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 Atlantic 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 timberdoodle--walks as though it were doing the rumba.)

  • Delaware Bay Division

    Delaware Bay habitat - Virginia Rettig/USFWS.

    In the Delaware Bay Division, the refuge’s bayshore along the Delaware Bay is a major resting and feeding area for migrating shorebirds and wading birds and is internationally recognized as a major shorebird staging area in North America. It is used particularly by species such as the red knot, ruddy turnstone, semipalmated sandpiper and sanderling.

    The Delaware Bay watershed is designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.

  • Great Cedar Swamp Division

    Great Cedar Swamp - USFWS.

    The Great Cedar Swamp Division of the refuge includes habitat such as hardwood swamp and bogs. Here the refuge connects with a Belleplain State Forest and The Pinelands National Reserve.

  • Two Mile Beach Unit

    Two Mile Beach sunset - Diana Cutshall.

    The Two Mile Beach Unit contains barrier island (with beachfront) habitat, tidal ponds, and some of the last remnants of maritime forest habitats in southern New Jersey. This site is critical migratory and nesting habitat for the Federally-listed piping plover and State-listed American oystercatcher.