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2021-2022 Migratory Bird Season
Information and Population Status


by Ted Nichols, Wildlife Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
April 15, 2021

The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has finalized the 2021-22 migratory bird hunting seasons. Below are notable highlights:
  • The bag limit during the Regular Canada goose season in the North and South Zones was reduced to 1 bird.

  • The scaup bag limit remains at 1 bird during the first 40 days, and 2 birds during the last 20 days, during the duck season in each zone.

  • The gallinule bag limit was reduced to 1 bird.

  • 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 Statewide. One day will be held between the duck season segments on November 6 and be open to Veterans and Active Military only. The second Vets/Military Day will be concurrent with a Youth Hunting Day on February 5. A Youth Day will also be held in October prior to the duck season opener in each of the three waterfowl zones.
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 makes hunting season planning more convenient for migratory bird hunters.

Dog among goose decoys
Goose decoys are unperturbed by mischievous dog
Click to enlarge

Although during a "normal" year biologists gather, analyze, and interpret biological survey data, 2020 was anything but a normal year. Due to COVID-19, surveys could not be completed for the first time in 65 years. In lieu of surveys, biologists used integrated population models and developed modified analytical techniques to predict 2020 populations for various species and used these predictions to derive harvest management recommendations for North American waterfowl.


Population modeling predictions for ducks indicated that the liberal alternative of a 60-day season with a 6-duck bag limit was the optimal choice for Atlantic Flyway states. New Jersey has had a 60-day duck seasons since 1997. Given the 20-year decline in eastern mallard abundance, all Atlantic Flyway states will remain at a restrictive daily bag limit of 2 mallards with no more than 1 hen this year.
Sunrise over a decoy spread
Sunrise over a decoy spread
Click to enlarge
This year, the daily duck bag limit in New Jersey will be unchanged from last year with 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 remain at 1 bird during the first 40 days, and 2 birds during the last 20 days, of the duck season in each zone.

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 Fish and Game Council promulgated 2021-22 season dates based on recommendations from the Division. The Division received input for season dates from a six-member committee of sportsmen formed by the NJ State Federation of Sportsmens Clubs. Duck seasons in each zone will be relatively similar to last year although the first segment in both the North and South Zones during October will open a week later than typical. Each zone includes 11 different Saturdays during the hunting season. Given New Jersey's zoning alignment, duck hunters who are willing to travel across zone boundaries can hunt 82 different days, including 15 different Saturdays, during the 60-day duck season.

2021-2022 Duck Seasons Table (pdf, 50kb)


Sea ducks collectively include scoters (black, surf, and white-winged scoters), long-tailed ducks, and eiders. Although there will be no changes to sea duck seasons this year, Atlantic Flyway hunters can expect changes in the near future. The Special Sea Duck Season was initiated during the 1960s when sea ducks were viewed as lightly harvested and underutilized species. Biologists have much less data to base harvest management decisions for sea ducks relative to other waterfowl.

Sea ducks are not well measured in any long-term survey, and banding data is scant. However, sea ducks are long-lived species with low reproductive potential and most do not breed until they are at least 2 years old or even older. Recent assessments have suggested that current harvest levels for sea ducks are likely exceeding allowable harvest. In response, the Atlantic Flyway Council (AFC) reduced the Special Sea Duck Season from 107 to 60 days (without splits) in 2016. However, harvest data indicate that this season reduction failed to reduce sea duck harvest.

In response, the AFC has recommended that the Special Sea Duck Season be eliminated and that sea ducks be included as part of the regular duck season bag. In New Jersey, this would mean that sea ducks could only be pursued in the existing Sea Duck Area (i.e. the Atlantic Ocean outside of the inlets) while the Coastal Zone duck season is open. Further, it seems likely that bag limits will be reduced to 4 sea ducks in aggregate with no more than 3 of any group (e.g. 3 scoters; 3 long-tailed ducks; 3 eiders) of sea ducks. At this point, it seems likely that these changes could be implemented as soon as the fall of 2022.

The "regular" Canada goose seasons in New Jersey's North and South Zones are based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese. AP Canada geese nest on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec and are New Jersey's primary migrant Canada goose population. After a period of population stability dating back to the early-2000s, the population has declined within the past five years due to poor gosling production resulting from chronically late arctic springs for the past decade. Although climate data indicate a rapid warming trend through most of the Canadian arctic, particularly during winter and fall, the spring season in the eastern Canadian arctic, where AP geese breed, has experienced chronically cold conditions for the past several years (

Population modeling has suggested that reducing harvest in all AP Canada goose areas in the US and Canada beginning this year, will result in a more rapid recovery of the AP goose population For this reason, the "regular" Canada goose season will remain at a 30-day season, but drop to a 1-bird bag limit in the North and South Zones. Given that fewer hunters may be willing to set up to field hunt geese because of the 1-bird bag limit, Canada goose seasons will overlap duck seasons 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 along 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, 2021).

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

The Atlantic Flyway Council has traditionally used a prescribed harvest strategy to manage Atlantic brant hunting seasons. Specifically, hunting seasons were based on population size measured during the Mid-Winter Waterfowl survey done in January on Atlantic Flyway coastal wintering grounds.

Beginning in 2021, Atlantic brant seasons will be based on an Integrated Population Model (IPM). IPMs can synergistically link various types of population monitoring data into mathematical models rather than use these datasets independently. IPMs also have the ability to predict future population size. The brant IPM uses estimates of population size from the Mid-Winter Survey, the annual fall age ratio from field surveys, as well as survival and harvest rates from banding data. The IPM 'smoothes' or stabilizes brant population estimates and the expectation is that brant harvest regulations will change less frequently from year to year using the IPM. Brant seasons during 2021 will remain unchanged from last year with a 50-day season and 2-bird bag limit.

Because 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. More information on this study can be found at:
Atlantic Brant Migration and Breeding Ecology Study 2021 Update


Greater and lesser snow geese, as well as Ross's geese, are collectively referred to as "light" geese. Light goose populations have been high for over 20 years and biologists remain concerned about the impacts light geese can have on fragile Arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to Arctic wetlands has already been documented in some key light goose breeding colonies. This damage can impact both light geese as well as other wildlife, such as shorebirds, that are dependent on that same 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.

Although there was no 2020 spring population estimate collected due to COVID-19, population modeling suggests the population remains well above 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 after the hunting season during the spring of 2022 allowing 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.


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 migratory birds. Youth Days are a unique educational opportunity, above and beyond the regular season, that helps ensure high-quality learning experiences for youth interested in hunting. One Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day will be held on the Saturday prior to the duck season opener in each of NJ's three zones.

Beginning in 2019, the Service allowed states to hold 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. On Saturday, November 6, a statewide Veterans/Active Military Hunting Day will be held.

Finally, on Saturday, February 5, a "joint" Youth and Veterans/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.

Bag limits for these days will include ducks, geese, brant, mergansers, coots, and gallinules and are the same as bag limits allowed in the regular season in each zone. Note that the scaup bag limit on these days which will be 2 scaup per day and count towards the bag limit of 6 ducks.
Special Youth and Veterans/Active Military Waterfowl Hunting Days FAQs


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 migrate into and winter in New Jersey with 50% of the state's harvest occurring in Sussex County and 25% in Cape May County. Although not nearly as popular as in 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 and public land abound for all these species.


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. Migratory bird hunters can get their HIP certification online by visiting the Division's license web site or at any license agent.

The 2021-22 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates follow. Migratory bird regulations will be included in the 2021-2022 Hunting and Trapping Digest that will be available online and at license agents in August.

American woodcock
American Woodcock
click to enlarge

2021-2022 Migratory Bird Seasons Summary (pdf, 155kb)
2021-2022 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 15, 2021