Important Bird Areas

Sandy Hook/ Gateway National Recreation Area

New Jersey

Sandy Hook is a barrier beach peninsula located in an urban landscape at the northern tip of New Jersey?s shoreline. It is designated as a Gateway National Recreation Area (NRA) and is administered by the National Park Service. Sandy Hook is also designated as a globally significant IBA by National Audubon Society for its ability to support Piping Plovers. Sandy Hook is a critical component of the Sandy Hook Bay Complex, a significant habitat complex of the New York Bight Watershed, designated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The site contains a variety of habitats including sandy beaches, extensive vegetated dune habitat, tidal mudflats, tidal salt marsh and two tracts of maritime forest, one of which is the largest remaining tract in NJ. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection designated Sandy Hook a Natural Heritage Priority Site, one of the state?s most significant natural areas. The southern portion of Sandy Hook was designated a state park after World War II and was later merged with Fort Hancock as the Gateway NRA. Sandy Hook contains America?s oldest operating lighthouse, erected in 1764 by New York merchants. NJ Audubon Society has collected valuable information from a hawk watch count and several banding projects throughout Sandy Hook for over 20 years.
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Ornithological Summary

Conservation Concern ? Federally-endangered; State-endangered: Least Tern (B)

Conservation Concern ? Federally-threatened; State-endangered: Piping Plover (B)

Regional Responsibility Species - BCR 30 Salt Marsh/Wetland: American Black Duck, Seaside Sparrow, Clapper Rail, Mallard, Marsh Wren, Osprey, Willet (B)

Significant Congregations of Waterfowl (W)

Significant Congregations-Exceptional Diversity (SM, FM)

Significant Migrant Stopover/Flyover-Shorebirds (SM)

Significant Migrant Stopover/Flyover-Landbirds (SM, FM)

Long-term Research/Monitoring: Hawk Watch annually since 1979, banding projects in the 1980s

Conservation Issues

Invasive plant species including the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissimma), Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia ), Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) and Japanese mugwort (Artemisia princes) threaten habitat diversity and outcompete native vegetation. Growing red fox and feral cat populations prey heavily upon nesting shorebirds, especially Piping Plover. Protection of nesting sites with fencing has proved inadequate as many animals enter by digging under the fence. Beach nesting birds are further challenged by frequent disturbance from heavy recreational use of the beaches. Recreational activity near important nesting areas should be limited or restricted during the breeding season. Public access to rare vegetative communities including the maritime forest and expansion of already extensive recreational activities should be prohibited. The adjacent industrial, commercial and residential development has resulted in the prevalence of pollutants including heavy metals and trash in and around Sandy Hook. Dredging of navigation channels and sea level rise has contributed to the loss of shallow water bays important to many species of waterfowl. Protection and restoration of undeveloped sites along Raritan/Sandy Hook Bay should be a priority. This can be achieved through conservation easements, acquisition, purchase of development rights, enforcement of existing regulations and by promoting landowner incentives for protecting and managing habitat. A regional conservation plan identifying strategies to protect the habitats of Raritan/Sandy Hook Bay should be developed and implemented.


Owned by: National Park Service
Gateway NRA
210 New York Avenue
Staten Island, NY
10305 Phone: (718) 354-4606


Mix of beach/dune habitat, maritime forest and tidal and nontidal wetland