Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Wildlife Drive)

Site Description

  • State: New Jersey
  • County: Ocean
  • Ownership: Federal


  • East Pool: 549.32 acres
  • Northwest Pool: 526.58 acres
  • Southwest Pool: 296.56 acres

Ecology and Management

Black ducks at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. Photo: Henry McLin (2011) USFWS FLICKR.

The Wildlife Drive impoundments of Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge are renowned for their abundance and diversity of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other water birds. Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge has been designated a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site based on the criterion of hosting over 20,000 shorebirds annually. Within the impoundments, 239 bird species have been reported to eBird.org, including impressive high counts of shorebirds and waterfowl. For example, highs of 8,300 Dunlin and 7,600 Semipalmated Sandpiper were reported in East Pool; 8,200 Northern Pintail in Southwest Pool; and 9,500 American Black Duck in Northwest Pool (as of April 2016). Migratory and wintering birds in the impoundments are also monitored by refuge staff and volunteers as part of the national Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring program and the International Shorebird Survey (Chan and Shulte 2008).

The impoundments are fed by Doughty Creek and Lily Lake, which allow the Northwest and Southwest Pools to be managed as freshwater. East Pool has been converted to a salt water management regime with water levels managed via tide gates. West Pool is generally drawn down during shorebird migration, which also stimulates the growth of seed-bearing annual moist soil plants. The West Pool is gradually re-flooded during the fall, which results in expanded foraging areas for dabbling ducks and wading birds. The water levels of East Pool fluctuate with the tides but on a delay so that during high tide on the surrounding marsh the impoundment mudflats are exposed and vice versa. The proliferation of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) has been an ongoing challenge (Sun et al. 2007), but has lessened in West Pool due to targeted control and in the East Pool due to the transition to a salt water management regime.


The Wildlife Drive impoundments at Forsythe NWR are partially sheltered by salt marsh and a barrier island but are nevertheless vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather events. The top of the embankments stand at approximately 5 feet above the mean high tide level and have experienced storm damage and erosion over the years. They suffered severe damage during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy when embankments were breached in several places, requiring extensive and costly repairs.

Human Value

The area of Forsythe NWR around the impoundments receives an estimated 120,000 visitors per year, most drawn by the abundance and easy viewing of birds. A dirt road (“Wildlife Drive”) surrounding the impoundments is one of the most popular birding destinations in the state (Applegate and Clark 1987, Kerlinger 1995). Approximately 3.9 million people live within 100 kilometers of Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.


We are grateful to Paul M. Castelli and Virginia Rettig (Forsythe NWR) for providing helpful information used on this page.

Literature Resources

Below is a list of articles describing research occurring at or near the impoundment:
  • ALS [American Litoral Society]. Assessing the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on coastal habitats. Highlands, New Jersey: American Littoral Society; 2012.
  • Applegate, J. E., and K. E. Clark. 1987. Satisfaction levels of birdwatchers: An observation on the consumptive—nonconsumptive continuum. Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9:129-134.
  • Atzert, S. P. Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Hadley, Massachusetts: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 5; 2004.
  • Brown, A., and H. Sun. First Year (Winter 2000) Evaluation of Different Treatments for Controlling Phragmites in the East Pool. Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Rider University; 2000.
  • Brown, A., and H. Sun. Draft report for baseline investigation of managing Phragmites australis in the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Rider University; 1999.
  • Brown, A., H. Sun, and F. Petrino. Second year (2001) post-treatment evaluation for controlling phragmites in the East Pool at EBFNWR, Brigantine, NJ. Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Rider University; 2002.
  • Castelli, P. Hurricane Sandy resilience projects in New Jersey: Edwin B. Forsythe, Cape May and Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuges. Hadley, Massachusetts: Presentation given at the Hurricane Sandy Tidal Marsh Resiliency Coordination Workshop December 8-9, 2014.
  • Chan, S., and S. Shulte. A Plan for Monitoring Shorebirds During the Non-breeding Season in Bird Monitoring Region New Jersey – BCR 30. Manomet, Massachusetts: Manomet Center for Conservation Science; 2008.
  • Conroy, M. J., G. R. Costanzo, and D. B. Stotts. 1989. Winter survival of female American black ducks on the Atlantic coast. The Journal of Wildlife Management :99-109.
  • Conroy, M. J., G. Costanzo, and D. Stotts. Winter movements of American black ducks in relation to natural and impounded wetlands in New Jersey. Waterfowl and wetlands symposium: proceedings of a symposium on waterfowl and wetlands management in the coastal zone of the Atlantic flyway. Dover, Delaware: Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; 1987. 31 p.
  • Conroy, M. J., J. R. Goldsberry, J. E. Hines, and D. B. Stotts. 1988. Evaluation of aerial transect surveys for wintering American black ducks. The Journal of Wildlife Management 52:694-703.
  • Cramer, D. Estimating habitat carrying capacity for American black ducks wintering in southern New Jersey. University of Delaware; 2009.
  • Erwin, R. M., J. S. Hatfield, M. A. Howe, and S. S. Klugman. 1994. Waterbird use of saltmarsh ponds created for open marsh water management. The Journal of Wildlife Management 58:516-524.
  • Erwin, R. M., D. K. Dawson, D. B. Stotts, L. S. McAllister, and P. H. Geissler. 1991. Open marsh water management in the mid-Atlantic region: aerial surveys of waterbird use. Wetlands 11:209-228.
  • Giroux, J., G. Gauthier, G. Costanzo, and A. Reed. 1998. Impact of geese on natural habitats. Pages 32-57 In Batt, B. D. J., editor. The Greater Snow Goose: report of the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service, Washington, DC and Ontario, Canada.
  • Goldstein, M. A Comparison of Sampling Methodologies to Improve Estimates of Available Food for American Black Ducks in New Jersey. University of Delaware; 2012.
  • Haglan, B., and M. Spratt. Habitat Management Plan Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Galloway, New Jersey: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Date unknown.
  • IWMM [Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Project]. Project Update – October 2010. Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Project; 2010.
  • Jones III, O. E., C. K. Williams, and P. M. Castelli. 2014. A 24-Hour Time-Energy Budget for Wintering American Black Ducks (Anas rubripes) and its Comparison to Allometric Estimations. Waterbirds 37:264-273.
  • Jones, O. Constructing a 24 hour time-energy budget for American black ducks wintering in coastal New Jersey. University of Delaware; 2012.
  • Kerlinger, P. The economic impact of ecotourism on the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge area, New Jersey, 1993-1994. Unpublished Report; 1995.
  • Sun, H., A. Brown, J. Coppen, and P. Steblein. 2007. Response of Phragmites to environmental parameters associated with treatments. Wetlands Ecology and Management 15:63-79.
  • WHSRN [Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network]. 2009. Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.