Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Our Meadowlands – A Living, Thriving Ecosystem for Endangered Species

I have been extremely fortunate over the years to be able to introduce countless people to the wonders of our Meadowlands and to the incredible diversity of bird species that flourish there.  To the disbelief of most people that visit our Meadowlands for the very first time many of the bird species we encounter are considered  endangered, threatened or species of special concern  in the State of New Jersey.

“But Don,” as the question usually begins, “If those birds are really endangered how come I see so many of them here?”  The simple answer is: “It’s the Meadowlands”

The New Jersey Meadowlands is a thriving urban wetland ecosystem that contains unique habitats within the many diverse bionetworks that make up its parks and natural areas. A success story just as extraordinary and dramatic as the return of the Bald Eagle or the Peregrine Falcon, both of which now breed, hunt and thrive here.

All made possible by people who thought the Meadowlands was important enough to save when many others considered it a wasted place just good for dumping and to be left for dead. State and Federal agencies and legislation like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act signed into law more than 40 years ago gave us the power and strength the bring the Meadowlands and its birds back from the brink to the amazing place it is today.

Now, almost like the phoenix rising from the ashes, we all get to enjoy the incredible results of all those people that thought enough and worked hard enough to do the right thing.

Black-crowned Night Heron
Credit: Ron Shields

During a stroll through places like DeKorte Park or Mill Creek Marsh you may be privileged enough to enjoy a Peregrine Falcon or Northern Harrier grace the skies overhead.  Closer to the ground a Savannah Sparrow forages along the paths and trails and along the banks. A Black-crowned Night Heron hunts like it has for eons and a Least Bittern hides among the grasses. All these species are threatened or endangered.

Long-eared Owls seek refuge in the cedars and Short-eared Owls may return come winter. Even a Barred Owl still can find sanctuary in the woods of the Meadowlands. The American Kestrel with its dwindling numbers still hunt over the fields and meadows just as the Black Skimmers fly the waters in formation to the thrill to all who are lucky enough to witness them.

Pied-billed Grebe

Birds like the American Bittern, Yellow Crowned Night Heron and Pied-billed Grebe can also be seen by those who care to take the time to search out these vanishing birds. The Osprey once again thrives in our Meadowlands and now the Master of the Meadowlands skies, the American Bald Eagle, patrols the air since its return to its ancestral home.

Make no mistake, even though the Meadowlands can at times give us a skewed view of these species they are still very much threatened and are still in great need of our help and protection. Our New Jersey Meadowlands is an incredible life giving place for New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species. These incredible creatures are doing their part to hang on and survive. Now we need to continue to do our job to be sure they will still have a chance.

Remember on this upcoming Earth Day that we all need to work together to honor these birds and to make sure our Meadowlands and places like it are preserved , protected and cherished for future generations to come.

For more info and the state of New Jersey’s Threatened and Endangered wildlife go to



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