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2015-2016 Migratory Bird Season
Information and Population Status


by Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
August 11, 2015

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife recently finalized the selection of the state's 2015-16 migratory bird hunting season regulations.

There are several significant changes from last year including the following:
  • The brant season will be 30 days with a bag limit of 1 bird; the brant season will be closed during part of the 60-day duck season in all zones.
  • The Regular Canada goose season in the Coastal Zone was extended and the bag limit increased to 5 birds.
  • The canvasback bag limit was increased to 2 birds.
  • Due to calendar changes, the duck season in the Coastal Zone will run later into January at the expense of days taken from the first split in November.
  • The second Youth Waterfowl Day in the Coastal Zone will occur after the close of the regular duck season and occur on February 13, 2016.
  • New Jersey has a new regulation prohibiting wanton waste of most game species, including migratory birds.

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 with the Service to cooperatively manage North America's migratory bird populations.

Bufflehead ducks in flight
Bufflehead ducks
Photo courtesy Craig Lemon
click to enlarge


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 2015, 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. In Atlantic Flyway states including New Jersey, liberal duck hunting season frameworks include a 60 day season with a 6-duck bag limit. New Jersey has had 60-day duck seasons since 1997.

Ringneck ducks
Ringneck ducks
Photo courtesy Craig Lemon
Click to enlarge
During 2015 in the eastern survey area, key species including mallards, black ducks, and green-winged teal were down somewhat from their long-term averages. Duck species from the mid-continent (prairie) region including blue-winged teal, gadwall, shovelers, canvasbacks, and redheads, were above their respective long-term averages. Pintails were down 24% from their long-term average which required a continuation of the more restrictive 2-bird bag. Scaup were 13% below their long-term average and the 2-bird bag was also retained.

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, 2 scaup, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 pintails, 2 canvasbacks, and 1 black duck. The bag limit is 6 ducks for all other 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.

To better serve New Jersey's sportsmen, the Division conducted a season selection preference survey of duck hunters during the winter of 2012-13. The majority of Coastal Zone hunters indicated that they preferred to hunt later into January by taking days from the 1st split in November. Due to the later date of Thanksgiving, and the fact that the Federal framework runs to January 30, Coastal Zone hunters will notice the late season framework this year which allows for only a 3-day segment earlier in the fall.

Similarly, this will be the third year where the South Zone duck season will run later into January at the expense of days taken from the first split in October.

Additional information and detailed results can be found in the 2012-2013 Waterfowl Hunter Survey (pdf, 310kb).


The "regular" Canada goose season is 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. A total of 161,300 breeding pairs were estimated from surveys during June, 2015. 49% of the indicated pairs were observed as single birds, suggesting an average nesting effort. The breeding population has been stable for the past 10 years so the "regular" Canada goose season will remain the same as last year with a 50-day season and 3-bird bag limit in the North and South Zones.

Upon reviewing contemporary leg band recovery data from migrant population (AP and North Atlantic Population) Canada geese in New Jersey, it was determined that the Coastal Zone qualified as an Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada goose Zone. Resident Population Zones have been used in Atlantic Flyway states since 2002 and include portions of the Flyway which winter relatively few migrant geese. As such, Resident Population Zones can have more liberal goose hunting seasons than zones which winter significant numbers of migrant Canada geese.

As a result of this analysis, the Canada goose season in New Jersey's Coastal Zone was extended and the bag limit increased to 5 birds. This change will be implemented during the next three years and is considered experimental by the Atlantic Flyway Council and US Fish and Wildlife Service. After the 3-year period, an evaluation will be conducted to determine if the Coastal Zone season remains within the criteria for Resident Population Zones. Leg band recovery data from both New Jersey's North and South Zones suggest that these zones hold significant numbers of AP geese during fall and winter and greatly exceed the criteria for Resident Population Zones.

The Special Winter Canada Goose Season will be held January 25 to February 15, 2016 in two zones with the same hunt area boundaries as last year and a bag limit of 5 Canada geese per day. This special season is held in areas of the state that have a relatively low proportion of AP Canada geese during late winter. The determination of AP Canada goose abundance is based on leg band recovery data as well as information from previous neck band and satellite telemetry studies.

Proud youngster with her first goose
Proud youngster with her first goose
Click to enlarge

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 Atlantic Population or migrant geese do not arrive in New Jersey until October.

Hunters need to remember that these special regulations only apply to the September Canada goose season (September 1-30, 2015). Hunters that choose to use unplugged guns during the September Canada goose season are reminded to reinstall magazine plugs before pursuing other game species.

Atlantic brant at coast 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. Other factors including young production during recent years and food supply (sea lettuce and eelgrass) are also considered when determining the current year's hunting regulation.

The 2015 Mid-Winter Survey estimate was 111,400 birds but brant have also experienced poor young production (less than 10% young in fall flight) during the past three years. This is the first time in 38 years of surveys where young production was less than 10% for three consecutive years. Reports of breeding ground conditions for 2015 are still sketchy at this point in time but young production is also expected to be below average this year.

As a result of these indices of below average population status, the 2015 brant season will remain at 30 days but the bag limit was reduced to 1 bird. Hunters are reminded to check the season dates carefully and note the time periods during the 60-day duck season when the 30-day brant season is closed.



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 dependent on the Arctic ecosystem. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas.

Due to this overabundance, the Service will again authorize implementation of 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 2015 spring estimate was 818,000 birds which is 63% above the population objective of 500,000 birds. During the past 10 years however, this population has shown a stable trend suggesting that liberal and special regulations may have stemmed the aggressive population growth that was occurring during the 1990s.

Snow goose hunting set up
Snow goose hunting set up
click to enlarge

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 will be implemented in the spring of 2016 from February 16 to April 9. 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. Hunters interested in participating in the CO should check the migratory bird regulations and/or the Division's web site for more details on obtaining required permits and hunting activity reporting requirements.


Since 1997, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on non-school days when youth hunters would have an opportunity to participate. Youth Days are held when waterfowl seasons 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.

New Jersey Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days will be October 3 and October 31 in the North Zone; October 10 and November 7 in the South Zone and November 7 and February 13 in the Coastal Zone. Note that the second Youth Day in the Coastal Zone will occur after the regular duck season closes and will allow youth a unique opportunity to hunt during the height of winter. In addition, this late date conflicts with fewer other hunting opportunities such as the opening of pheasant season or other youth hunting days.

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 Division's license sales web site, at any license agent, or by calling the toll-free NJ telephone sales line at 888-277-2015. Ducks against sunset sky

This year a new regulation prohibiting wanton waste of many game mammals and birds was enacted in New Jersey. Specifically concerning migratory birds, it is unlawful for any person to leave the edible portions of migratory birds (excepting crows) to waste. For migratory birds, edible portions include the meat of the breast; however, edible portions do not include meat that has been damaged by the method of taking; bones, sinew, and meat reasonably lost as a result of butchering, boning, or close trimming of bones; or viscera. Edible portions do not include meat from diseased or scavenged carcasses.

Further, it is unlawful for any person to place, leave, dump, or abandon a game animal, or wildlife carcass or parts of it along or upon a public right-of-way or highway, or on public or private property, including a waterway or stream, without the permission of the owner or tenant. Additional information concerning this regulation can be found in the 2015 Hunting and Trapping Digest, available mid-August.

Additional information on the 2015 status of waterfowl and habitat conditions, as well as accompanying status videos, can be found at

The 2015-16 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates and regulations are linked below. The 2015-16 Migratory Bird Regulations booklet in PDF format is available below; print copies will be available at Division offices, license agents, and sporting goods stores in late summer.

2015-2016 Migratory Bird Regulations Booklet (pdf, 110kb)
2015-2016 Migratory Bird Seasons Summary (pdf, 20kb)
Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification Information

The division wishes all migratory bird hunters a safe and enjoyable hunting season.

NJ Waterfowl Information

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: August 11, 2015