Study reveals woodcock wintering grounds


They are part of an ongoing study of migratory forest birds that hopes to shed light on habitat needs, not only where they nest in the summer, but also where they spend nearly half of the population. year in the south.

Three woodcock were fitted with tiny satellite transmitters last summer near Hackensack, Minnesota. One disappeared within a week, without any sign of the transmitter. But the other two survived, managing to dodge predators all summer and hunters in the fall, one now wintering near Shreveport, Louisiana, and the other not far near Texarkana, Texas.

Debbie Petersen holds an adult female woodcock that she captured near Hackensack, Minnesota, in the summer of 2021 so that she could be fitted with a satellite transmitter. The transmitter antenna can be seen beyond the bird’s tail feathers. The transmitter gives locations for the bird every five days, showing that it is wintering in the Gulf Coast region. Contribution / Debbie Petersen

Two young people got their transmitters in September near Remer, Minnesota. One of them now winters near Muskogee, Oklahoma. The other is the outlier of the group, heading east to Ohio before heading south to overwinter in Alabama.

Newsletter subscription for email alerts

The Minnesota Woodcock usually stays north until snow covers the ground and thus covers its source of earthworms to eat. They will return north in late March or early April.

The study, led by Alexis Grinde of the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth, began in 2019. It deciphered the type of forest woodcock need to raise their young and discovered that small birds with long beaks need lots of logs. and branches on the ground to hide from predators.

The original research used short-range radio transmitters to track birds in a relatively small area near their nests for just a few weeks. Now, satellite transmitters will provide precise, long-range locations every five days for nearly a year.

Researchers knew that the Minnesota woodcock liked the Gulf Coast in general in winter. But we didn’t know exactly where they were going and what kind of habitat they were using when they got there.

It didn’t take long for the birds to make their journey south. Since the transmitters only report once every five days, to save battery life, it’s not clear how direct their flights were, but it took them between five and 15 days to travel around 1,000 miles. .


Debbie Petersen holds an adult woodcock that she and her Gordon setter, Bogie, have found and captured.  The bird was equipped with a satellite transmitter that reports the location of the bird every five days.  Contribution / Ashley Peters, Ruffed Grouse Society

Debbie Petersen holds an adult woodcock that she and her Gordon setter, Bogie, have found and captured. The bird was equipped with a satellite transmitter that reports the location of the bird every five days. Contribution / Ashley Peters, Ruffed Grouse Society

“It’s interesting that three of them ended up quite close to each other. … Then we have this other immature male that flies east, near Columbus, Ohio, before heading south, ”said Debbie Petersen.

Petersen, a certified bird bander, science teacher and naturalist from Walker, Minnesota, has trained his Gordon Setter hunting dogs to find woodcock not only in the fall for sport, but in the spring and summer for research. It is the dog’s ability to find birds and Petersen’s skill at capturing them by hand or in nets that allows researchers to attach transmitters to study birds.

The transmitters weigh only 4.1 grams, or 0.15 ounces. An average woodcock weighs about 7 ounces. The units are attached to the bird with a material designed to wear out so that the transmitter falls off after several months.


Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The overall goal of the study was to find out why the woodcock is doing quite well in the forests of northern Minnesota, but is declining steadily across much of its range in the United States. Minnesota appears to offer extensive young forests, created by regular logging and demand from the region’s wood products industry, helping to create a key component of woodcock habitat.

Birds seem to do best when they can reach several types of forests in the immediate vicinity – young, medium and old, large and small trees, used for foraging, nesting, and cover at various times throughout the summer and early of autumn. If scientists can determine what types of forest habitat promote better nesting and survival, then they can provide those results to foresters and land managers to help conserve the species in other states, Grinde said.

Now, with satellite transmitters, the goal is to “complete even more unknowns about the life cycle of this bird,” said Grinde. “We know what kind of habitat they nest in. But we really didn’t know what kind of places they prefer the rest of the year.”

Grinde said data from satellite transmitters had already revealed an interesting quirk. Two of the woodcock in the study first flew further north into Minnesota before later heading south. It is not known if this is an unusual movement or a common characteristic. maybe birds looking for new nesting territory next year.


A tiny satellite transmitter installed on a Minnesota woodcock in the summer of 2021 as part of an ongoing study by the Natural Resources Research Institute.  The female bird overwinters in the Gulf Coast region, with the transmitter sending location reports every five days.  Contribution / Ashley Peters, Ruffed Grouse Society

A tiny satellite transmitter installed on a Minnesota woodcock in the summer of 2021 as part of an ongoing study by the Natural Resources Research Institute. The female bird overwinters in the Gulf Coast region, with the transmitter sending location reports every five days. Contribution / Ashley Peters, Ruffed Grouse Society

“We’re also seeing very specific data on where they overwinter,” Grinde said, noting that researchers get precise locations from the transmitters and can then verify those locations on Google Earth and other occupation sites. of the ground.

“There’s one lying around in what looks like a housing estate. … And we think, what’s the matter over there? ” Grinde said. “But the rest are in what looks like wildlife management areas, places you might expect them to be.”

John Myers reports on the outdoors, the environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be contacted at [email protected]


Comments are closed.