Nearly all of New Jersey is in some stage of drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.

The very northern and southern counties, including all of Cape May, are now considered to be in a severe drought. The severe drought area has also expanded to include all of Middlesex, Union, and Somerset counties.

While residents are being urged to continue conserving as much water as possible, does the drought pose any threat to our state’s wildlife?

Droughts do affect our native wildlife population but they’ve evolved and have learned to deal with these stressor situations throughout the years, said John Heilferty, chief of the Endangered and Nongame Species Program for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

So it’s not as dramatic for animals as we may believe but it can affect their population depending on how bad a drought may be.

Residents can certainly help by being proactive and not reactive to the needs of wildlife in drought conditions, Heilferty said.

Common milkweed is the "poster native plant" of New Jersey (Photo Credit:
Common milkweed is the "poster native plant" of New Jersey (Photo Credit:

Planting native species

What that means is that people should do their best to maintain their yards on a regular basis in a manner that is wildlife friendly.

“That sets up a scenario when we do have stressors for native wildlife through droughts. They are in a better position because residential areas are affording them with habitats, food resources, shade, and moisture management conditions than they would be if there was just a lawn of turf grass,” Heilferty said.

Native plants and natural vegetation are also much more adaptable to deal with drought than are some ornamental species which don’t provide much food resources for wildlife. Native plants tend to produce more nectar, seeds, berries, and fruit for them, he said.

Planting native oak species, native wildflowers that provide regular habitat for pollinators, and seed resources for birds, all help in the good times and help wildlife get through these tough periods, Heilferty said.

On the rim

Conserving water

In addition to proactively maintaining yards in a natural condition that is most beneficial to wildlife, residents should also fully embrace water conservation measures so they are helping eliminate the effects drought has on local reservoirs and watersheds.

Heilferty said by doing this, residents help maintain the volumes of water in these natural aquatic systems. When animals go to these places they’re comfortable visiting to seek water, the water is available to them.

“Plants suffer dramatically from droughts because they require moisture in the soil. But wildlife typically has to go to a water source to obtain their water. So, as long as that water source is still flowing, or still has available water, that is sometimes less than an issue for wildlife species. It’s more of an issue for plant species,” Heilferty said.

bird bath
(Getty stock)

Bird baths

Another way New Jerseyans can help wildlife during drought conditions is by keeping a bird bath active and available.

But Heilferty said it is critical to make sure homeowners are attending to that birdbath daily.

“If not, you’re either going to create a mosquito breeding condition or create conditions where the quality of that water, if it’s not really clean, is just going to encourage problems with disease or contaminated water that you’re exposing the wildlife to,” Heilferty said.

Butterfly at Sandy Hook, NJ
Mike Brant - Townsquare Media

Bird and butterfly feeders

Bird feeders can also be of help in drought situations. White millet and black oil sunflower seeds as well as suet, are highly recommended. Again, it is important to keep the feeder clean because neglected feeders can increase the risk of disease in birds.
Fruit trays for butterflies can help keep them nourished. All you need is fruit and a plate.

Different methods of feeding butterflies can be found here.

What is not recommended is leaving food and water out for wildlife species, especially small mammals.

Heilferty said this may sound harsh but this could habituate them to rely upon food or water, even in drought conditions. You don’t want to become accustomed to finding food and water resources in a residential area.

Two web resources that can provide further guidance on how to maintain a wildlife-friendly yard are and

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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Some of New Jersey's Native Plants

New Jersey has more than 2,000 native plants in the state. But 350 of them are in a searchable database at Here are some native plants you can find in the Garden State, some perfect for hummingbirds and butterflies and others for yard beauty.


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