Study traces migration habits of woodcock

The American Woodcock, whether you hunt them over a gun dog or simply observe their spiraling spring mating rituals, are a fascinating and unique migratory game bird.

A study of the woodcock’s migration habits and patterns by the University of Maine in collaboration with some other research organizations, is turning up some useful and interesting data. According to the study’s website: “Many species of North American birds (37%) are declining and migratory birds are declining at faster rates than many non-migratory bird species. The American Woodcock  is a migratory forest bird that has experienced population-wide long-term declines of 0.8% per year, over the past 50 years. Woodcock are distributed throughout the eastern United States.”

Over the years, the diminutive size of these delicate birds has made it difficult to attach telemetry tracking devices. Incredible technological advances, however, in ultra-light satellite transmitters (4-7 grams) have really been a game changer for tracking the woodcock’s migratory patterns.

Recently, UMaine’s woodcock study has resulted in the tagging of 568 woodcock with tracking transmitters that have sent back 32,000 locations of these migrating birds. These are the central questions that this study hopes to answer: 1) When do woodcock start their migration?  2) How long does the migration take? 3) What is the survival rate during migration? 4) Where are the stopover sites?

There is some truly revealing behavioral data that is available for popular consumption on the study’s  website: www.woodcockmigration.org/.

In their travels southward to warmer climates, woodcock exhibit migratory habits not unlike another much larger migratory critter: the American Snowbird. The study reveals that some woodcock take a longer circuitous route around Scranton, PA and then on down through Harrisburg and points south, while others stick closer to I-95 and make rest and refueling stops in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A number of the study subjects decided to only winter over in the Carolinas, while woodcock from Quebec shot the works and winged their way all the way to the Florida Panhandle and even farther south.

Two Quebecois woodcock, both Kentucky bound, chose different routes to get across the Great Lakes. One bold bird flew right over Lake Huron, while its wing man demurred and stayed over land between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

It is hoped that the data collected from this research project will help wildlife biologists and other professionals perform their work more effectively in efforts to understand the woodcock’s migratory behavior and habit preferences.

This study’s principal investigators are Dr. Erik Blomberg (erik.blomberg@maine.edu) and Dr. Amber Roth (amber.roth@maine.edu), both from the Wildlife Ecology Department at the University of Maine.

For more information on the Eastern Woodcock Migratory Research Cooperative, or research occurring in your state, you should contact the project Principal Investigators or the research lead for your state/province. Each state’s respective research leader is listed on the website.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com, Outdoor Books.

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