Wildlife Watch: Tracking the American woodcock

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 3:00 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife has partnered with biologists from Canada into the southern United States to help better understand the migration patterns of the American woodcock.

Our Ike Bendavid talked with Wildlife Biologist David Sausville to learn more about the unique bird.

Ike Bendavid: Talking about the American woodcock-- first, what is this bird?

David Sausville: Basically the woodcock looks very much a shorebird. It’s a shorebird that’s adapted to living in the woods. It’s a small very cryptic bird that’s in young forests and fields settings.

Ike Bendavid: Located in Vermont?

David Sausville: Absolutely. We have them in Vermont. We have them in the Canadian provinces and they work their way down south into Florida, Alabama and those areas.

Ike Bendavid: It is this time of the year when they head south. Where do they go?

David Sausville: They are usually beginning to start first week in November, second week in November. They will start heading south and going into their primary wintering areas of the North Carolina and Virginia area. That’s where we find where a lot of the birds go.

Ike Bendavid: You have been working on tracking their flight pattern. Explain that work you are doing with the birds.

David Sausville: It’s a cooperative study. The primary investigators are actually out of the University of Maine. We have two Ph.D. students that are working on the ecology and migration patterns of the woodcock. And we were able to join the study with 12 other states and three Canadian provinces. And track the birds from not just Vermont but all those areas because they just don’t stay in Vermont. But we had 18 birds that we put radio transmitters-- that are actually GPS coordinates-- and 10 this year.

Ike Bendavid: Talk about the transmitter you are putting on them. Do these weigh them down? How do you put them on the birds?

David Sausville: We place what we call a rump-mounted transmitter. We put loops around their legs; it attaches to them. It can’t be more than 4% of their body weight, so on a male, the males are smaller on the woodcock, it’s a 4-gram unit and the female, it’s a 6-gram unit because these birds are only 5.3-ounce animal and 7.5 with a female. And basically, it’s just jewelry wire that we loop around and cinch up. And then it has two antennas that will send the information off to the satellites.

Ike Bendavid: When you get all this information, what’s the goal once you have that?

David Sausville: Well, the goal with the study is that we can possibly change the survey period to make it more accurate to actually get a better count on the birds. We can look at the habitat they are using and target that and try to work with private landowners to manage their property. One of our goals is to have 10% of the state in early section forest but it has to be in the right setting. You don’t want to place it in wintering areas that other animals need. That will help us target that. And we can also look at there is a hunting season on them-- if that’s affecting them. Do we move that season to let the birds move through to have a higher survival rate or can we adjust it to allow more harvest if that’s something that’s allowed in the population and general habitat protection is our goal? We are looking to protect the habitat of the birds and encourage people to do that because a lot of the changes over the years-- we have more buildings, more highways, more light pollution-- that’s all changed since the ‘60s and a lot of the migrational species that are out there are the ones having more of a decline, especially migratory birds.

Ike Bendavid: Dave, thank you so much. Looking forward to that information when it comes out.

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