NEW Sea Turtle Recovery Center at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo is excited to welcome the Sea Turtle Recovery (STR) to the list of new exhibits and partnerships on zoo grounds. Increased sea turtle strandings in the Northeast Region of the United States has caused several facilities to reach capacity throughout the year.  With this occurring, it does not leave available space for New Jersey’s stranded sea turtles that need critical treatment, and it also puts a heavy burden on the Southeast Region to facilitate the influx. Sea Turtle Recovery was created to help these turtles in need.

In 2014, more than 700 live sea turtles washed ashore in the Northeast. Just six years ago, the five-year average (2006-2010) was 152 cold-stunned sea turtles. Eight facilities in the region have the capacity to care for cold stunned or injured sea turtles.

All five species of sea turtles found in the Atlantic Ocean are threatened or endangered. They face many threats including fishing line entanglement, plastic ingestion, boat strikes, and are losing natural nesting and feeding sites because of coastal development.

At Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, a modern 4,000-square-foot facility was built to support this partnership. The new building has five recovery tanks, life support systems, and an intensive care unit for more critically injured turtles. Zoo visitors will be able to see less critical patients while learning about the perils sea turtles face and what the public can do to help. Once the turtles have regained their health, they will be released back into their natural habitat.

Now is the time to help these endangered and threatened species. Please go to, and follow Sea Turtle Recovery on Facebook to find out about the new nonprofit at the zoo and ways to help!

Sea Turtle Recovery (STR) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to the rehabilitation, preservation and conservation of sea turtles. Its current work extends throughout the state educating the public about the ecological role of sea turtles, threats they face, and ways to protect their future. Now, with the building donation of Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, the Sea Turtle Recovery can begin to fulfill the other portion of its mission to rehabilitate sea turtles for release back into the wild.

STR is dedicated to the rehabilitation, preservation and conservation of Sea Turtles.  STR’s goal is to rehabilitate sick or injured Sea Turtles for their release back to the wild. The Sea Turtle Recovery will also educate the public on the important ecological role of sea turtles, threats endangering them, and ways to protect their future.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Join us February 10th at 6pm for a 45minute workshop to learn all about the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count and how you can participate. The workshop will be held in the Education Center classrooms. Then join us at the Zoo on Sunday, February 14th 7:15am as we conduct our own Great Backyard Bird Count with animal keeper, Erica. Birders should meet at the Lion statue to the right of the Main Zoo Entrance. Both events are free to the public. No advanced registration is required.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for at least 15 minutes one or more days between February 12 and 15. Record your observations at Anyone can take part in GBBC, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.



Keep an eye-out for these local species:


Northern Cardinal, songbird Cardinalis cardinalis

  • Northern cardinals are one of the few songbird species in which the females also sing. Mated pairs often duet and call back and forth.
  • Habitat: shrubby forest edges, parks, yards
  • The bright red plumage of the male cardinal is maintained by red, yellow, and orange pigments in the seeds they eat.
  • The Northern cardinal’s short, stout, cone-shape beak is perfectly adapted for cracking thick seed shells
  • Male cardinals are very territorial and will attack their reflection in glass. Many songbirds will also fly straight into glass; which will often prove to be fatal. To prevent window strikes by cardinals and many other bird species, check out these tips provided by BirdWatchingDaily.com
  • To learn more about Northern Cardinals and other songbird-s please visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website at


Hooded Merganser, Duck Lophodytes cucullatus 

  • Hooded mergansers exhibit sexual dimorphism in plumage. Males have a black and white crest and chestnut flanks while females are a dull brown with a cinnamon crest. Females need to blend in better with their environment when incubating eggs and raising young.
  • Habitat: Freshwater ponds, rivers, marshes, and protected saltwater bays
  • Hooded mergansers are diving ducks and will dive to capture fish and invertebrates. They locate their prey by sight.
  • Their legs are located far back on their body, which helps them to dive and swim with ease. This leg placement also makes them quite awkward on land.
  • Hooded mergansers nest in tree cavities and will nest in man-made nest boxes. To learn about making nest boxes for mergansers and many other bird species, visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nest Watch website at
  • To learn more about Hooded Mergansers and other birds visit National Audubon’s website at


Cooper’s Hawk, Raptor Accipiter cooperii 

  • Their short, broad wings and long tail allow these hawks to maneuver through dense forest and capture smaller birds with ease.
  • Habitat: Wooded areas from backyards to dense forest
  • Like most hawk species, the males are significantly smaller than the females. Females tend to specialize in hunting larger prey than the males.
  • Cooper’s Hawks can easily be confused with the equally common Sharp-shinned Hawk. Cooper’s Hawks are larger and their tails are more rounded.
  • A backyard that provides food, water, and shelter for wildlife benefits all bird species that may visit. To see how you can provide beneficial habitat to birds, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat page at
  • To learn more about birds visit the American Bird Conservancy’s website at


Northern Bobwhite, Bird in Decline Colinus virginianus 

  • Northern bobwhites are a small quail species, and are highly social. They live in groups called coveys which may consist of 3 to 20 birds.
  • Habitat: Fields, grasslands, and open pine forest
  • In good conditions, bobwhites are prolific breeders. They can produce 2 to 3 broods in a year, totaling up to 25 offspring.
  • Since the 60’s, Northern bobwhite numbers have dropped by 82%. Loss of habitat due to urbanization, changing agricultural practices, and use of pesticides have contributed to declines in bobwhite populations.
  • To learn more about what New Jersey Audubon is doing to study and protect the Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey, please Click Here.


You can help New Jersey Audubon Scientists study birds in decline in our state by becoming a Citizen Scientist. To learn more, please visit their Citizen Science website by Clicking Here.

Sea Turtles Abroad!

Meet Alex Witter! Alex is a committed conservationist who is working with sea turtles in Costa Rica for the summer of 2015. Alex is volunteering with a group called Turtle Trax that combines conservation, hands-on volunteer work, community projects, and locally based tourism to sustain sea turtle populations.

Alex began her career at the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. Working as a seasonal associate, Alex was a key member of the Zoo’s butterfly team. Turtle Back Zoo is excited to support Alex and Turtle Trax as they protect and conserve our vulnerable sea turtles.

For more information on Alex’s work, check out her blog!













Dr. Bergmann’s Sea Lion Rescue Efforts


Sea lions are loved and adored by many people all over the world. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize sea lions have been endangered for years.  Last year, there were approximately 900 sea lions stranded on the beaches of North America’s western cost.  This year, there are over 3,000!  Most of these sea lions are pups and about 70% of them are expected to die without assistance.  To help decrease these numbers, non-profit organizations like the Marine Mammal Care Center specialize in saving and protecting marine animals. Nearly 1,171 sea lions have been rescued from the months of January to April 2015.  Sea lions are being saved and released frequently, and with the help of these organizations they will hopefully continue to live long and healthy lives. 

Turtle Back Zoo is proud to support sea lion rehabilitation efforts.  This June, the Zoo will be sending their esteemed veterinarian, Dr. Jon Bergmann,  to California to volunteer his services for sick and injured sea lions.  He will be assisting with direct animal care with a goal of healthy releases back into the wild.

Dr. Bergmann has been working with the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ for over two years.  He is a New Jersey native who followed in his veterinarian father’s footsteps, due to his love for animals.  In 2014, Dr. Bergmann traveled to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California, to assist with a stranded sea lion affectionately known as Tipper.  Tipper failed to thrive on her own and Dr. Bergmann secured her safe transit to Turtle Back Zoo.  Tipper now resides happily in the Zoo’s Sea Lion Sound exhibit.

Dr. Bergmann’s passion for exotic animals will hopefully help bring awareness to the ailing sea lions across the nation.  Stay tuned for updates on Dr. Bergmann’s latest sea lion rescue travels!

Upcoming Events

  • February 20, 2017See the Seas Mini-Camp, Parts I and II
  • February 25, 2017 11:00 amSeasonal Job Fair
  • February 25, 2017 2:00 pmSOLD OUT - Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • February 26, 2017 2:00 pmMembers Only- Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • March 4, 2017 12:00 pmSummer Camp Open House
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