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American Woodcock Habitat Enhancement and Singing-Ground Surveys
Midwest Region, May 12, 2014
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Alder shearing to benefit American Woodcock.
Alder shearing to benefit American Woodcock. - Photo Credit: Gary Zimmer, RGS
American Woodcock
American Woodcock - Photo Credit: Ted Koehler
Steven and Ted Koehler with Steven's first woodcock.  American woodcock are important migratory gamebirds which are pursued in the fall throughout the eastern half of the United States.
Steven and Ted Koehler with Steven's first woodcock. American woodcock are important migratory gamebirds which are pursued in the fall throughout the eastern half of the United States. - Photo Credit: Ted Koehler

The American woodcock is a popular migratory game bird throughout eastern North America. During the past thirty years the woodcock population across its range in the Northeast and Midwest United States and Canada has shown a steady decline. Biologists believe this is primarily related to changes in habitat. In response to this decline a group of partners including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Ruffed Grouse Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and others have partnered together in the Wisconsin Young Forest Initiative.

 

One of the many projects completed lately took place on private land in Douglas County, Wis. where 30 acres of upland alder were enhanced to benefit American woodcock and other migratory birds. The Wisconsin DNR provided the equipment and manpower and the Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) provided assistance and funding through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The 30 acres were enhanced in 5 to 10 acre patches throughout a 120 acre management area, thus expanding the influence of the actual on-the-ground work.

As alder brush matures and the branches spread out, greater amounts of sunlight reach the earth creating a grassy understory. American woodcock prefer a more open understory in which to forage for earthworms and other prey. They also like a more open environment in order to see predators, with eyes fixed high on their heads they are well equipped to spot danger while they probe the soil for a meal. Using heavy duty, but small mowing equipment the alder is mowed or sheared low while the ground is frozen. It then rejuvenates in dense stands with an open understory which the birds prefer.

The management objective of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to increase populations of woodcock to levels consistent with the demands of hunters and non-consumptive users. Therefore, reliable annual population estimates are essential for woodcock management. Due to their small size, natural coloration and preference for dense vegetation woodcock are difficult to find and count. Because of these difficulties the North American Woodcock Singing Ground Survey and other methods have been developed by the Service and its partners to provide information on abundance, recruitment and hunting success.

As part of the survey, Ted Koehler and Gary Czypinski from the Service’s Ashland FWCO survey singing ground routes in Ashland and Bayfield counties in northern Wisconsin. Male woodcock give vocal calls described as “peents” and perform aerial displays called “flight songs” shortly after sunset as part of their courtship behavior. Along a four mile transect the number of peenting males are recorded and the results entered into the national database. This annual survey provides an index to the relative size of the woodcock breeding population and is the most important source of data used to guide the United States and Canadian woodcock programs.


Contact Info: Ted Koehler, 715-682-6185, ted_koehler@fws.gov



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