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2020-2021 Migratory Bird Season
Information and Population Status

 

by Ted Nichols, Wildlife Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
April 29, 2020

The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has finalized the 2020-21 migratory bird hunting seasons. Below are notable highlights:
  • The brant season was increased to 50 days. The bag limit is unchanged at 2 birds.

  • he scaup bag limit will be reduced to 1 bird during the first 40 days, and 2 birds during the last 20 days, of the duck season in each zone.

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service will again allow states to choose special hunting days for Veterans and Active Military. Both of these days will be held in February, one day concurrent with a Youth Hunting Day, and the other day only open to Veterans and Active Military. A Youth Day will also be held prior to the duck season opener in each zone.

Each year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) develops migratory bird hunting regulations with input and consultation with the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The Flyway Councils are comprised of representatives from state and provincial wildlife agencies that work with the Service to cooperatively manage North America's migratory bird populations.

Beginning in 2016, the Service and Flyway Councils developed a new schedule for migratory game bird hunting regulations. This cycle results in season dates and bag limits being set much earlier than the previous process that had been used since the 1950s. This new process will make hunting season planning more convenient for migratory bird hunters.

Dog among goose decoys
Goose decoys are unperturbed by mischievous dog
Click to enlarge
During the annual regulatory cycle, biologists gather, analyze, and interpret biological survey data and provide this information through published status and administrative reports. To determine the appropriate frameworks for each species, biologists consider factors such as population size and trend, geographical distribution, annual breeding effort, the condition of breeding and wintering habitat, the number of hunters, and the anticipated harvest. Although survey results still govern decisions for annual hunting seasons, the new process will no longer consider the current year's survey data but rather be based on predictions derived from long-term biological information and established harvest strategies.

"REGULAR" DUCKS

Duck hunting regulations are based on biological population assessments using the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process, which was developed cooperatively by the Service and Flyway Councils. AHM is an objective, science-based, regulation-setting process.
Sunrise over a decoy spread
Sunrise over a decoy spread
Click to enlarge
The Atlantic Flyway developed a new harvest strategy for ducks, referred to as "Multi-Stock AHM", that was implemented in 2019. Multi-Stock AHM considers the collective population status of American green-winged teal, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, and common goldeneyes when determining a decision for annual regulations. These four species comprise about 60% of the Atlantic Flyway duck harvest, represent a wide-range of species life histories, and have expansive breeding and wintering distributions across both the breeding and wintering regions of the flyway.

Multi-Stock AHM uses a model that considers the allowable annual harvest based on productivity and the carrying capacity of the habitat in the flyway for each of the species. For the 2020 duck hunting season, the Atlantic Flyway Multi-Stock AHM process indicated that the liberal alternative of a 60-day season with a 6-duck bag limit was the optimal choice. New Jersey has been fortunate enough to have 60-day duck seasons since 1997.
Multi-stock Duck Harvest Management in the Atlantic Flyway (pdf, 375kb)

Mallards will not be part of Multi-Stock AHM but will have their own harvest strategy similar to canvasbacks or pintails. Given the decline in eastern mallard abundance, all Atlantic Flyway states will remain at a daily bag limit of 2 mallards with no more than 1 hen this year.

This year, the daily bag limit in New Jersey will be 6 ducks in aggregate and may not include more than 2 mallards (including no more than 1 hen), 4 scoters (in aggregate), 4 long-tailed ducks, 4 eiders, 3 wood ducks, 2 black ducks, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, and 1 pintail. The scaup bag limit will be reduced to 1 bird during the first 40 days, and 2 birds during the last 20 days, of the duck season in each zone. The 2019 scaup population (3.6 million birds) declined to the lowest level observed since 2007 and was significantly (-28%) below the long-term average and the 2018 (-10%) estimate.

Atlantic Flyway hunters will be happy to hear that the black duck bag limit will remain at 2 birds per day for the fourth consecutive year in 2020, although time will tell if this 2-bird bag limit in the US is sustainable for the long-term. The bag limit is 6 ducks for all other "regular" duck species. Merganser bag limits will remain at 5 birds per day with no more than 2 hooded mergansers. Merganser bag limits are in addition to regular duck bag limits.

The Division and Fish and Game Council set 2020-21 season dates based on input from a committee of sportsmen formed by the NJ State Federation of Sportsmens Clubs. Duck seasons in each zone will be similar to last year with calendar date adjustments. Given New Jersey's zoning alignment, duck hunters who are willing to travel across zone boundaries can hunt 86 different days, including 15 different Saturdays, during the 60-day duck season.
2020-2021 Duck Seasons Table (pdf, 120kb)

CANADA GEESE

The "regular" Canada goose seasons in New Jersey's North and South Zones are based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese which nest on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec. The AP is New Jersey's primary migrant Canada goose population. After a period of population stability dating back to the early-2000s, the population has fared poorly more recently with only 119,500 breeding pairs estimated during 2019, resulting in a 3-year average of only 131,000 pairs. Poor gosling production due to chronically late arctic springs appears to be driving the population decline, with gosling production being below average for 7 of the past 10 years. Due to this poor status, the "regular" Canada goose season will remain at a 30-day season with a 2-bird bag limit in the North and South Zones.

Because the Coastal Zone has relatively few band recoveries from AP Canada geese, it was re-designated as a North Atlantic Population (NAP) in 2019. NAP geese nest in low density throughout the boreal forest of Labrador and Newfoundland and winter primarily along the Atlantic Coast from the Canadian Maritimes to North Carolina. The NAP harvest strategy calls for a 60-day, 2-bird bag limit in areas including New Jersey, so the Regular Canada goose season in the Coastal Zone will occur concurrent with the duck season.

Resident Population (RP) Canada geese are overabundant throughout most of the United States and cause significant damage problems. As a result, additional hunting methods including the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, extended hunting hours, and liberal bag limits are allowed during September hunting seasons. September seasons target RP geese since very few Atlantic Population or migrant geese arrive in New Jersey prior to October. Hunters need to remember that these special regulations only apply to the September Canada goose season (September 1-30, 2020).

Father and son with Canada goose harvest
Passing on the tradition
Click to enlarge
Red numbered leg band on brand
Atlantic brant with tarsal band
Click to enlarge
ATLANTIC BRANT

Since Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness of the Canadian Arctic, their status is measured during the Mid-Winter Waterfowl survey done in January on their Atlantic Flyway coastal wintering grounds. With better young production during 2019, the 2020 Mid-Winter Survey estimate increased 17% from last year at 139,900 brant. Consequently, the brant season will be 50 days with a 2-bird bag. The last 10 days of the duck season will be closed to brant hunting in each zone.

Given that over 80% of Atlantic Flyway brant winter in New Jersey and New York, the Division initiated a 5-year collaborative Atlantic brant study with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Canadian Wildlife Service in 2018. During the next year, crews will continue banding brant with various markers to answer several questions on brant ecology. More information on this study can be found at:

More information can be found at:
Atlantic Brant Migration and Breeding Ecology Study 2019 Update

LIGHT GEESE

Greater and lesser snow geese as well as Ross's geese are collectively referred to as "light" geese. Light goose populations remain high and biologists are concerned about the impacts light geese have on fragile Arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to Arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key light goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the light geese themselves, as well as other wildlife, such as shorebirds, dependent on the Arctic ecosystem. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas.

Due to this overabundance, the Service is expected to again implement a Conservation Order (CO). A CO is a special management action, authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that is needed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance of that population. The CO allows an extended time period outside of traditional hunting seasons as well as additional methods for taking light geese without bag limits. The intent of the CO is to reduce and/or stabilize North American light goose populations that are above population objectives.

In the Atlantic Flyway, greater snow geese are the most abundant light goose population. The 2019 estimate, obtained by surveys in spring on staging areas of southern Canada, was 714,000 birds, which is the lowest count in over 20 years, but still above the population objective of 500,000 birds. During the past 10 years, this population has shown a stable to declining trend suggesting that liberal and special regulations implemented in both Quebec and the U.S., have stemmed the aggressive population growth that was occurring during the 1990s.

Due to the current large population size, the hunting season length for light geese will be the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (107 days) with liberal bag limits of 25 light geese per day with no possession limit. In addition, a CO implemented in the spring will allow hunters to pursue light geese for the duration of the migration and wintering period. During the CO, special regulations will be allowed including the use of electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding up to 7 shells, extended shooting hours, and no bag limits. (The spring 2020 CO concluded April 4, 2020.)

VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS

Since 1997, the Service has allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on non-school days, when youths have an opportunity to participate, and are closed to the general hunting public. The objective of Youth Days is to introduce young hunters to the concepts of ethical use and stewardship of waterfowl, encourage youngsters and adults to experience the outdoors together, and to contribute to the long-term conservation of the migratory bird resource. Youth Days are a unique educational opportunity, above and beyond the regular season, which helps ensure high-quality learning experiences for youth interested in hunting.

Beginning last year, the Service allowed states to choose special hunting days for Veterans and Active Military personnel to recognize their service to our country. These days allow a unique opportunity for Veterans and Active Military personnel to share hunting experiences together in a less-crowded hunting environment.

One Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day will be held on the Saturday prior to the duck season opener in each of NJ's three zones. On Saturday, February 6, a "joint" Youth and Veterans/Active Military Hunting Day will be held statewide. This day will give Youth and Veteran/Military Hunters the opportunity to share a unique hunting experience together. Finally, on Saturday, February 13, a statewide Veterans/Active Military Hunting Day will be held.

Bag limits for these days will include ducks, geese, brant, mergansers, coots, and gallinules. Bag limits are the same as those allowed in the regular season in each zone except for scaup which will be 2 scaup per day.

Information wil be found in the 2020-2021 Hunting and Trapping Digest when published in August.

WEBLESS SPECIES

New Jersey has always been an important migration area for rails and woodcock. Some of the highest concentrations of sora in the US occur in New Jersey's tidal freshwater marshes that are dominated by wild rice. In addition, woodcock pass through New Jersey during fall with 50% of the state's harvest occurring in Sussex County and 25% in Cape May County. Although not nearly as popular as days gone by, New Jersey still has a tradition of "mud hen" or clapper rail hunting in early September along the Atlantic Coast. Ample hunting opportunities abound for all these species.

Given the importance of woodcock, the Division is working cooperatively with several state/provincial, federal, university, and non-governmental agencies as part of the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative. This study uses GPS telemetry units to better understand woodcock ecology stopover and migration.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

All hunters pursuing migratory birds including ducks, geese, brant, coot, woodcock, rails, snipe or gallinules, are reminded to obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification. The process is the same as last year. Migratory bird hunters can get their HIP certification one of three ways: online by visiting the license sales web site or at any license agent.

The 2020-21 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates follow. Due to the earlier timing of annual regulation process, the NJ Migratory Bird Regulations leaflet is no longer published. Migratory bird regulations will be included in the 2020-2021 Hunting and Trapping Digest and be available at Division offices and license agents in August.

American woodcock
American Woodcock
click to enlarge

2020-2021 Migratory Bird Seasons Summary (pdf, 155kb)
2020-2021 Duck Seasons Table (pdf, 120kb)

Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification Information

Waterfowl and Migratory Birds in New Jersey

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Last Updated: April 29, 2020