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2012-2013 Migratory Bird Season
Information and Population Status

by Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
August 14, 2012

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife recently finalized the selection of the state's 2012-13 migratory bird hunting season regulations. There will be relatively few changes from last year other than calendar date adjustments. Major changes for the upcoming season include the following:

  • The scaup bag limit was increased to 4 birds.
  • The brant season will be closed during part of the duck season in all zones.
  • The "regular" Canada goose season was increased in from 45 to 50 days.
In 2012, the status of ducks and their habitats in mid-continent and eastern North America are sufficient to justify a liberal duck hunting season framework of 60 days with a 6-duck bag limit. Atlantic Flyway states including New Jersey have had 60-day duck seasons since 1997.

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.


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 2012, 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. Mallard, canvasback, and bufflehead were similar to long-term averages while blue-winged and green-winged teal, gadwall, shovelers and redheads were well above long-term averages. Only pintails (-14%) and wigeon (-17%) were below their long-term averages.

Fall ducks on water and in flight
Fall ducks
Click to enlarge

The black duck estimate was similar to 2011 and slightly (+11%) above the long-term average. Various population indices and estimates for wood ducks across their range in North America suggest that populations are stable to increasing and can withstand increased harvest when compared to historical levels. In 2008, the flyways and Service agreed to an experiment to increase the wood duck bag limit from 2 to 3 wood ducks. Current harvest levels suggest that this increased harvest is sustainable so no change to the 3-bird wood duck bag limit was proposed for 2012. Wood ducks are an important species for New Jersey duck hunters, particularly in the North Zone.

On another bright note, the 2012 population estimate for scaup increased for the seventh consecutive year and at 5.2 million birds was similar to the long-term average. This population level suggests that scaup can sustain a daily bag limit of 4 birds.

Hunter with harvested diving ducks
Diving ducks provide rewarding hunts
Click to enlarge
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, 4 scaup, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 pintails, 1 canvasback, 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.

Recently, there has been disagreement among New Jersey waterfowl hunters concerning selection of duck season dates, particularly in the Coastal Zone. Selecting exact hunting dates is a balance between scientific and social factors. This coming fall, the Division will conduct a random survey of waterfowl hunters to ascertain hunter's opinions of season date selections. Obtaining hunters' opinions will enable the Division's resource managers and the Fish and Game Council to continue to make data-informed decisions during the upcoming years concerning social issues where opposing viewpoints are under consideration.


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 190,300 breeding pairs were estimated from surveys during June 2012 yielding an estimate similar to 2011. During this year's survey, half of the indicated pairs were observed as single birds, indicative of an average nesting effort. The breeding population has been stable for the past 10 years. The recent breeding population is well above the population threshold for moderate regulations and the current harvest rate is well below the targeted harvest rate as outlined in the AP Harvest Strategy approved by the Atlantic Flyway Council and Service. As a result, the AP Harvest Strategy was refined to allow for a 50-day season during the "regular" season with a 3-bird bag limit.

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 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 1-29, 2012). 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 light 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 28 to February 15, 2013 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 2012 Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey, 149,200 brant were counted which was similar to the 2011 estimate. 2012 spring conditions on Atlantic brant staging areas were average but reports from all breeding areas were not available at the time of this printing. Brant nesting areas on Southampton Island were flooded during the critical nest initiation period so productivity from at least that colony is expected to be especially poor.

The 2012 brant season will remain at 50 days with a bag limit of 2 birds so the brant season will be closed during part of the duck season in all zones. In the Coastal Zone, where over 90% of brant are harvested, the brant season will be closed during the last 10 days of the 60-day duck season. Hunters should check the season dates carefully and note the time periods during the duck season when the brant season is closed.


"Light" goose (greater and lesser snow geese as well as Ross's geese are collectively referred to as "light" geese) 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.

Harvested brant in boat
Atlantic brant
Click to enlarge

As a result of this overabundance issue, 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 preliminary estimate from 2012 spring surveys was 1,005,000 birds which is twice the size of the population objective of 500,000 birds. As a result, 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 2013 from February 16 to April 6. 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 Service has allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on weekends, holidays, or other 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. Atlantic Flyway states are permitted to hold two Youth Days in each zone. New Jersey Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days will be October 6 and November 3 in the North Zone; October 13 and November 10 in the South Zone and October 27 and November 3 in the Coastal Zone.

Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils developed a Woodcock Harvest Strategy (Harvest Strategy). The Harvest Strategy has agreed upon regulatory packages that are triggered based on indices from the annual Singing-Ground Survey (SGS) conducted each spring by wildlife biologists. Current SGS indices indicate that a "moderate" regulatory package is appropriate for 2012. A moderate package (36 days in NJ) is a liberalization in season length from the past 14 years (1997-2010; 24 days). In the North Zone, additional season dates were added to the end of the season while in the South Zone, additional season dates where added during the second season segment which occurs around the Christmas Holiday period.

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 in 2011. 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.

Additional information on the 2012 status of waterfowl and habitat conditions, as well as accompanying status videos, can be found at:

The 2012-13 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates follow. The 2012-13 Migratory Bird Regulations publication will be available at Division offices, license agents, and sporting goods stores in late summer.

2012-2013 Migratory Bird Regulations Booklet (pdf, 165kb)
2012-2013 Migratory Bird Regulations Summary (pdf, 14kb)
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 14, 2012