Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge


At Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, more than 39,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats are actively protected and managed for migratory birds.

Forsythe Refuge's Brigantine and Barnegat Divisions were originally two distinct Refuges, established in 1939 and 1967 respectively, to perpetuate the use of tidal wetland and shallow bay habitat by migratory water birds. In 1984 they were combined under the Edwin B. Forsythe name, in honor of the late conservationist Congressman from New Jersey.

The Refuge's location in one of the Atlantic Flyway's most active flight paths makes it an important link in the vast network of National Wildlife Refuges administered nationwide by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As its value for the protection of water birds and their habitat continues to increase ... the coastal resources along the New Jersey shore diminish.

Wildlife and Habitats . . . Diversity is Critical

New Jersey's coastal wetlands have long been the preferred habitat of large numbers of Atlantic brant and the American black duck — a species which has suffered major population declines over the years. While meeting the habitat needs of these two species is a primary concern here, the Refuge's diversified habitats are managed to support a wide variety of water birds and other wildlife. Special emphasis is also given to protection and habitat management for the endangered and threatened bird species which nest here.

Marshes and Water Birds

Almost 90 percent of Forsythe Refuge is tidal salt meadow and marsh, interspersed with shallow coves and bays. These provide important resting and feeding habitat for water birds. The quiet tidal waters serve as nurseries, spawning and feeding grounds for fish and shellfish which are important in the diets of many wildlife species. Abundant marsh vegetation provides important food and cover for wildlife.

The Brigantine Division has also created 1,415 acres of fresh- and brackish-water impounded marsh habitat for wildlife. These diversified wetlands were created to attract and support a wider variety of wildlife than could salt-marsh alone.

Each year tens of thousands of ducks and geese, wading birds and shorebirds concentrate here during spring and fall migrations, as they stop and linger to feed and rest. Several species, including the black duck, remain through summer to nest and raise their young. Weather permitting, Atlantic brant and black ducks also over winter here.

Endangered peregrine falcons frequent Refuge wetlands, as do ospreys. Both species take advantage of the nesting platforms erected for their use, and have continued to nest here for several years.

Bald eagles are also seen on the Refuge each year. While most sightings occur along the Mullica River, these rare birds also occasionally forage over Refuge impoundments.

Barrier Beaches and
Endangered Beachnesters

More than 6,000 acres of the Refuge are designated as a Wilderness Area. This includes Holgate and Little Beach, two of the few remaining undeveloped barrier beaches in New Jersey. They provide essential nesting and feeding habitat for the rare piping plover, black skimmer and least tern. These birds, along with other beach-nesting species, have suffered drastic population declines as human beach developments and recreational uses have continued to engulf their habitat. Forsythe Refuge is one of their last strongholds.

The dunes, prime nesting habitat, constantly shift and change as the forces of wind and wave action mold them. Beach grasses, which trap blowing sand and stabilize the dunes, provide important cover for wildlife, especially for developing young birds. Impacts introduced by humans and their pets can result in severe erosion, loss of habitat, and harm to beach-nesting birds.

The Refuge manages these fragile areas for the rare birds which depend on them. In order to minimize disturbance to the birds and their habitat, this management includes limiting or prohibiting public access. Holgate is closed to all public use during nesting season; Little Beach is closed all year except by special use permit for research or education.

Forests, Swamps and Fields

More than 3,000 acres of the Refuge are woodlands dominated by such tree species as pitch pine, oaks, and white cedar. Fields are maintained in the midst of these wooded communities, to increase habitat diversity.

A wide variety of upland wildlife species, including songbirds, woodcock, white-tailed deer and box turtles, frequent these areas. Surprisingly, waterfowl such as black ducks often nest here.

Enjoying the Refuge

Visitors may enjoy a wide range of wildlife- and wetlands-related activities here.

The Refuge's public use facilities are located at the Brigantine Division headquarters area in Oceanville:

An eight-mile Wildlife Drive and two short foot trails provide excellent wildlife viewing and photo opportunities.

  • The Refuge is ideal for environmental education.
  • An Information Office and Auditorium are in the Refuge headquarters building. It is open weekdays 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. all year.
  • Organized groups are requested to contact the Refuge and register their visits in advance.

There are no public use facilities at the Barnegat Division.

Seasonal waterfowl and deer hunting, fishing, and crabbing are permitted in designated areas of both the Brigantine and Barnegat Divisions, under Federal and State regulation. Please contact Refuge headquarters for additional information, regulations and maps.


  • Best wildlife viewing occurs in spring and fall.
  • Wildlife Drive brochures and bird checklists are available.
  • Biting insects abound from mid-May through September. Ticks occur all year, and are most active during warmer months. Some ticks may carry Lyme disease, known to be harmful to humans. Insect repellent is recommended.

Visitor Information

The Refuge receives almost 200,000 visitors each year. Cumulative impacts of this many visits on wildlife and habitat can be great. To ensure that we may continue to fulfill our primary mission of protecting and managing this Refuge for the benefit of wildlife, visitors are advised to comply with these simple guidelines and regulations:

  • The Refuge is open only during daylight hours (sunrise to sunset).
  • Visitors are urged to remain on designated roads and trails, leaving adjacent habitat undisturbed for use by wildlife.
  • Entrance Road and Wildlife Drive speed limit is 15 mph or less, as posted.
  • Pets must be on a short, hand-held leash.
  • Pets are prohibited at Holgate.

The following are prohibited on the Refuge :
  • Disturbing, injuring, destroying, collecting of plants, wildlife, or other natural objects.
  • Feeding wildlife.
  • Picking fruits or flowers.
  • Entering closed areas.
  • Camping, swimming, kite-flying, fires.
  • Horses, off-road vehicles, unlicensed motorized vehicles.

A Guide to
Seasonal Wildlife Activity

Although migratory and other seasonal wildlife events are described below by month for easy reference, actual timing can vary from year to year due to variable weather conditions and other factors.

August: Shorebirds and warblers, heading south. Wading birds gather for migration.

September: Ducks gather in large flocks. Teal will be the first to migrate this month.

October: Snow geese arrive.

November 1-10: Spectacular concentrations of ducks and geese in Refuge pools, numbers exceeding 100,000.

November 15 - December 15: Peak snow goose numbers. Ducks and geese moving south. Bald eagle sightings most likely in late December.

January & February: Limited wildlife visibility. Best during thaws. Some possible sightings might be black ducks, Atlantic brant, diving ducks, raptors, perhaps a bald eagle. Cold weather may freeze Refuge waterways, forcing waterfowl southward to find open water.

March 20 - April 15: Northbound waterfowl migration.

April 20 - May 30: Wading birds and shorebirds arrive; glossy ibis numbers peak in late April. Canada geese hatch (goslings usually feeding on dikes by May 20).

Early May: Greatest diversity and peak numbers of warblers in Refuge uplands, coinciding with the seasonally increasing insect populations which comprise a major part of their diet.

May & June: Horseshoe crabs spawn on Refuge bay shores and beaches. Migrating ruddy turnstones arrive to forage on the crab eggs.

Mid-June To Mid-July: Peak of duckling hatch. These young birds will migrate with adults this fall.

Refuge Entrance Fees

Entrance fees buy wetlands. In response to the staggering loss of wetlands in the United States, Congress authorized the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to charge entrance fees at National Wildlife Refuges. The moneys are used primarily to purchase wetlands for inclusion into the Refuge system.

Entrance fees are in effect every day at Forsythe Refuge's Brigantine Division. When a fee collector is not on duty, visitors may pay at self-service payment sites. Visitors can purchase a daily entrance pass or either of two annual passes: a Duck Stamp or a Golden Eagle Passport. Disabled individuals or those 62 years of age or older may apply in person to receive a free lifetime entrance pass. Any of these passes will admit the purchaser and others accompanying in a private vehicle. Children under 16 are admitted free. Bus and large-van rates are available.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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