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2008-09 Migratory Bird Season
Information and Population Status

by Ted Nichols
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program Biologist
August 26, 2008

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife recently selected the state's 2008-09 migratory bird hunting season regulations. Major changes for the upcoming season include the following:

  • The wood duck daily bag limit was increased to 3 birds.
  • The brant season will be open for the duration of the duck season in all zones. The brant daily bag limit was increased to 3 birds.
  • The canvasback season is closed.
  • The daily bag limit for scaup was reduced to 1 bird per day for the majority of the duck season. The scaup daily bag limit will be 2 birds per day for the last 20 days of the duck season in each zone; see the scaup bag limits on the attached season schedule.
  • Special regulations are permitted during the September Canada goose season (September 1-30, 2008) only. Electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding no more than 7 shells, and hunting hours extended to hour after sunset are permitted. Note that this allows hunting hour later than during other waterfowl seasons. These regulations were also in place during September, 2007.

In 2008, the status of ducks and their habitats in mid-continent and eastern North America are sufficient to justify a liberal duck hunting season framework. In Atlantic Flyway states like New Jersey, this will be the 12th consecutive year with a 60-day duck season.

Sportsmen who are willing to travel will be able to hunt ducks in at least one of New Jersey's three waterfowl zones from October 11, 2008, until January 24, 2009. If hunters also consider Canada geese, rails and snow geese, there will be potential migratory bird hunting opportunity available from September 1 through March 10, 2009.

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

Duck hunting regulations are based on biological population assessments using the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process, which has been developed cooperatively by the Service and Flyway Councils. AHM is an objective, science-based regulation-setting process. During 2008, the AHM process suggested that a liberal duck hunting season in all flyways was consistent with the long-term welfare of North American waterfowl populations.

Most species of ducks in the eastern and mid-continent survey areas were near or above their long-term averages. Mallards, black ducks, and American wigeon were similar to long-term averages while blue-winged teal, gadwall, shovelers, redheads and green-winged teal were well above long-term averages.

Successful goose hunter
Take advantage of the September goose season!
Click to enlarge
Photo by Tom Pagliaroli

The estimates for redheads and green-winged teal were the highest and second highest, respectively, on record. Wood duck population indices have increased across North America and modeling efforts done by the Service and Flyways suggest that wood ducks can withstand additional harvest. The flyways and Service agreed to a 3-year experiment to increase the wood duck bag limit from 2 to 3 wood ducks beginning in 2008. Wood ducks are an important species to New Jersey duck hunters bags, particularly in the North Zone.

Although most species are doing quite well, managers remain concerned about some species. Scaup populations have remained depressed for more than 20 years and in 2008 were 27% below the long-term average.
Hunter with brant and black ducks
Brant, and black ducks, can be plentiful in the Coastal Zone
Click to enlarge

Due to the continued poor status of scaup, bag limits were reduced in 2008 throughout the country. At the recommendation of the Atlantic Flyway Council, the Service allowed Atlantic Flyway states to allow scaup hunting for the duration of the 60 days duck season with a 1-bird bag during 40 days and a 2-bird bag during 20 consecutive days of the season. In New Jersey, the 2-bird bag portion of the scaup season was placed at the end of the duck seasons in all zones to simplify regulations. In addition, this season structure will allow duck hunters to take a higher bag limit of scaup during the time of year when the diving duck hunting tradition reaches its highest zeal.

After a record high breeding population in 2007 (865,000), the canvasback population declined 44% in 2008 (489,000), to a level 14% below the long-term average. Although there was considerable debate on how the population could have changed so dramatically in one year there are historical instances where a change of this scale, both as an increase or a decrease, has occurred before. Notwithstanding, a record number of canvasbacks were observed as paired ducks (as opposed to single males) indicating a very poor breeding season forecast for 2008. Under the observed breeding population and predicted poor young production, the Service's population model called for a closed canvasback season in 2008.

Although pintails remained below their long-term average, 2008 population estimates indicated that pintails could sustain a 1 bird per day bag limit through the 60-day duck season.

This year, the daily bag limit in New Jersey will be 6 ducks and may not include more than 4 mallards (including no more than 2 hens), 4 scoters, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 1 pintail, and 1 black duck. Scaup bag limits will be 1 or 2 birds as described above and canvasbacks will be closed. 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 "regular" Canada goose season is set based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec. The AP is New Jersey's primary migrant Canada goose population. A total of 170,000 breeding pairs were estimated from surveys during June 2008. This estimate is a 13%, non-significant decline from 2007. Reports from the banding crews on the tundra breeding grounds during August were that the nesting effort was very strong. As a result, the regular season for Canada geese in New Jersey will be maintained at 45-days with a 3-bird bag limit.

Resident Population Canada geese are overabundant throughout most of the United States and cause significant damage problems. Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) completed an Environmental Impact Statement that included a multi-faceted approach for managing resident Canada geese. Included in this approach was the expansion of hunting methods during September seasons when generally only Resident Population geese are harvested. Permitted additional hunting methods during September seasons are the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, extended hunting hours, and liberal bag limits. New Jersey has chosen to allow hunters to utilize these tools to help curb the growth of Resident Population geese in the state. Although these special regulations and liberal bag limits alone are not expected to solve the resident Canada goose overabundance problem in New Jersey, they remain part of an integrated approach to Canada goose management.

HUNTERS NEED TO REMEMBER THAT THESE SPECIAL REGULATIONS ONLY APPLY TO THE SEPTEMBER CANADA GOOSE SEASON (September 1-30, 2008). Hunters that choose to use unplugged guns during the September Canada goose season are reminded to reinstall magazine plugs before pursuing other game species. During all other waterfowl seasons, including ducks, brant, regular and winter Canada goose, and snow goose, "standard" regulations apply. "Standard" regulations include: electronic calls prohibited, shotguns may not be capable of holding more than 3 shotshells, and hunting hours end at sunset.

The Special Winter Canada Goose Season will be held January 20 to February 15, 2009 in two zones with the same hunt area boundaries as last year and a bag limit of 5 Canada geese per day.

Since Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness of the Canadian Arctic, their status is measured during January surveys on their Atlantic Flyway coastal wintering grounds. In the 2008 Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey, 163,000 brant were counted. As a result, the brant season length was liberalized to 60-days while the bag limit was increased to 3 birds. The brant season will coincide with the duck season in all zones.

Snow goose populations remain high and biologists are concerned about the impacts snow geese have on fragile Arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to Arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key snow goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the snow geese themselves, as well as other wildlife dependent on the Arctic ecosystem. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas. The season length for snow geese is already 107 days, the longest allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Bag limits will remain liberal this year with 15 snow geese per day and no possession limit.

The Service allows states to select 2 consecutive days for Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on weekends, holidays, or other non-school days when youth hunters would have an opportunity to participate. Most states are able to select a full weekend; however New Jersey is typically constrained to a single Saturday in each zone since hunting is closed on Sunday by state statute.

This year, an extra day was added in the South Zone to encompass the Friday (Nov. 7) of the New Jersey teachers union convention; this selection allows for 2 consecutive days in the South Zone. New Jersey Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days will be October 4, November 7-8, and October 25, in the North, South, and Coastal Zones, respectively.

All hunters pursuing migratory birds including ducks, geese, brant, coot, woodcock, rails, snipe or gallinules, need to obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification. The process is the same as in 2007. Migratory bird hunters can get their HIP certification one of three ways: online by visiting the division's license sales web site, at any license agent, or by calling the toll-free NJ telephone sales line at 888-277-2015.

Hunter in blind with geese
Jim Hartobey enjoys the September season.
Click to enlarge
Photo by Tom Pagliaroli

Online and license agent HIP certifications will cost $2.00 while telephone HIP certifications will include a shipping/handling fee and cost $5.13. HIP certifications obtained from license agents and through the telephone system will be printed on durable green license stock while internet HIP certifications can be printed on a home computer. Regardless of the method used for HIP certification, hunters will be able to go hunting immediately after registering. HIP certification should be carried in the hunter's license holder. HIP certifications are valid from September 1, 2008 to March 10, 2009.

Additional information on the 2008 status of waterfowl and habitat conditions can be viewed on the Service's web site at: (pdf, US FWS website)

The 2008-09 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates and information are linked below. The 2008-09 Migratory Bird Regulations booklet will be available at Division offices, license agents, and sporting goods stores in September. It is available on the Division's website now, linked below.

2008-09 Migratory Bird Regulations Booklet (pdf, 178kb)
2008-09 Migratory Bird Regulations Summary (pdf, 17kb)
Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification Information

The division wishes all migratory bird hunters a safe and enjoyable hunting season. See the NJ Waterfowl and Migratory Birds page for more informaiton about NJ's migratory birds.

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Department of Environmental Protection
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Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: August 26, 2008