Wildlife in our Parks

Living With Wildlife

The parks of the Morris County Park Commission provide important habitat for many wildlife species. Many of these species may not be seen on a regular basis but are common through the county. While the presence of some species may surprise park users, it should not cause alarm unless the animal is acting unusual. Below are links for park users and all residents of Morris County with tips on enjoying the parks safely in the presence of wildlife.

Wildlife
Black bear

Bears

Black Bears (Ursus americanus) are common in northern New Jersey after their population rebounded in recent decades. Bears have been seen across Morris County and it is not uncommon to see them in any of our parks. Bears often steer clear of people and seeing one in the park is not a cause for alarm but it is important to remember that they are wild animals and should not be approached or provoked. Park users are reminded to never feed wildlife and to keep dogs on leash when in the parks.

Learn More
eastern coyote

Coyotes

Eastern coyotes (Canis latrans) have been found in New Jersey since at least the 1950s. Coyotes are common across Morris County and can be found in all of our parks. While often most active at night, it is not unusual to see coyotes active during daylight hours as they search for food. The presence of coyotes in the parks should not be concerning as healthy coyotes often avoid human activity. If you see a coyote acting unusual or approaching people, please call the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division at 973-326-7654 to report it along with the location. Park users are reminded to never feed wildlife and to keep dogs on leash when in the parks.

Learn More
Raccoons

Raccoons

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are a common and widespread species in the Morris County Parks though they may not be seen often as they are mostly nocturnal. That being said, seeing a raccoon in the parks during the day is not uncommon or necessarily a cause for alarm as they do search for food during daylight hours, especially when raising young. Raccoons can carry disease including roundworm, canine distemper, and rabies and should never be fed or approached. Dogs should be kept on leash for their safety. If you observe a raccoon that appears sick, is acting strange or approaching people please call the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division at 973-326-7654 to report it along with the location.

Beaver with dam

Beavers

The American beaver (Castor canadensis) is an aquatic rodent which has been found in increasing numbers across Morris County in recent years after once having been extirpated from the area. Beavers travel along rivers and streams seeking new habitats and rarely leave the water for long periods of time. Most often their presence will be noticed by the lodges and dams they build along with chewed trees.

Beavers are incredible engineers and their dam building and clearing of vegetation change and provide habitats for many other species of wildlife and plants. Whenever possible the MCPC allows beavers the space to do their work unobstructed. Occasionally when beaver activity threatens private property or park infrastructure, the MCPC must take steps to mitigate their impacts including the breaking up of dams and caging off of trees. Seeing beavers and their work in the parks are great signs of a healthy and functioning ecosystem. If you encounter beaver activity in the park that you believe poses an infrastructure threat, please report the location to the Natural Resources Department.

White tailed Deer fawn

Injured Wildlife

Park users may at times encounter wildlife in the parks that they believe are sick, injured, or abandoned by the parents. This is especially common in the spring and summer when young animals are learning to be on their own. Most often no action is needed as wildlife, even when young, are incredibly resilient. Wildlife that may appear abandoned often are not but a person’s presence or interaction may keep their parents from coming back. If you are certain that an animal you encounter needs help, please consult the resources from the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Learn More
Initiatives

The Morris County Park Commission has taken on a number of initiatives to provide nesting and roosting habitat for wildlife species in decline. These programs are monitored by staff and volunteers and data is shared with the appropriate organizations including the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. Natural Resources staff have also worked to document wildlife species that inhabit the parks by conducting surveys and inventories.

American Kestrel baby care for by humans

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest falcon in North America. Once quite common, kestrel populations in the northeast have been declining and they are listed as a threatened species in New Jersey. Their decline is likely due to habitat loss since they rely on large open grassland habitats and often nest in tree cavities.

With the assistance of local Eagle Scout candidates, the MCPC has installed 9 kestrel boxes in 9 parks across the county since 2020 to help provide nesting locations for this species. Large meadow complexes were selected for nest box locations to provide ample hunting opportunities for kestrels.

The MCPC, in coordination with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW), began monitoring the nest boxes in 2021. It can often take time for kestrels to find and use nest boxes, but in June 2021 the first nesting pair was detected in a box placed at the Willowwood Arboretum. A NJDFW Biologist captured, measured, and banded the three chicks and mother that summer and subsequently all three chicks successfully fledged and were seen at the park. These nest boxes have also been used by Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).

Kestrel Biology Resources

American Kestrel Fact Sheet (nj.gov)

NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife – Raptors in New Jersey (njfishandwildlife.com)

Wildlife Field Guide for NJ Endangered and Threatened Species (conservewildlifenj.org)

Blue bird boxes

Bluebird Boxes

Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are commonly observed in open meadow habitats across the park system, especially in spring and summer. As a species that nests in tree cavities, they were experiencing population declines due to loss of habitat and nesting sites. In recent years, with the help of active nest box installation programs, Eastern bluebird populations have rebounded. The MCPC maintains over 180 bluebird boxes across 12 parks. Volunteers can assist in maintaining and building bluebird boxes as well as monitoring the birds that use them.

Pipistrelle bat

Bat Boxes

Bats, with their ability to consume large numbers of insects including mosquitos, are hugely beneficial to the human residents of Morris County. New Jersey is home to nine different species of bats which are all insectivores and inhabit many types of habitat throughout the state. Unfortunately many bat species in New Jersey are in decline due to habitat loss and a fungal disease known as White-nose Syndrome which was first detected in NJ in 2009. Some bat species, including the LittleBrown Bat (Myotis lucifugus), spend winters in communal colonies known as hibernacula located in caves or abandoned mines. These congregations of large numbers of bats allow White-nose Syndrome to spread rapidly. The disease causes wing damage, dehydration, and prevents the bats from conserving enough energy to survive the winter.

To provide more habitat for bats and encourage their presence in the parks, the MCPC has installed bat houses in eight parks with the assistance of local Eagle Scout candidates. Boxes are monitored by volunteers during the summer and the MCPC works with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife on more in-depth population and health studies including bat captures and acoustic studies.

Homeowners are encouraged to install bat houses on their property to attract bats. Bat houses can also provide an alternative to bats that may be seeking shelter in attics or other structures. Below are resources for homeowners for dealing with bats and constructing bat houses.

Learn More
Inventories

Trail Camera Inventory

The Natural Resources Department often employs motion-activated trail cameras to inventory wildlife in the parks. Many species of wildlife, while common, are rarely seen by staff and regular park users. Having cameras out around the clock allows the MCPC to have a fuller picture of all the wildlife which call the parks home. Below is a selection of photos taken using this tool.

Reptile & Amphibian Inventories

The Natural Resources Department works to document wildlife species throughout the park system. Reptiles and amphibians are not always commonly seen by park users but play an important ecological role, primarily through their effects on the food web. As both prey and predators of many other species, the loss of reptile and amphibian species can have a cascading effect. Amphibians can be an indicator of environmental health since their thin skin makes them susceptible to pollutants and environmental changes. All rare wildlife species observed by staff are reported to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. Below is a selection of photos of reptile and amphibian species observed in Morris County parks.