Woodcock Research and Management
The American woodcock (Scolopax minor) is a migratory bird that lives in the northern United States and southern Canada during the spring and summer. The primary breeding range for woodcock is southern Canada, Maine, and westward to the Great Lakes region and as far south as central West Virginia. Woodcock begin their fall migration in September and spend the winter anywhere from the central to the southern United States, with Louisiana wintering more woodcock than any other southern state. Since Louisiana represents an important wintering area for woodcock, LDWF conducts a lot of research about the species, including a banding project and habitat studies, and manages habitat to attract woodcock.
Woodcock Banding Project
LDWF biologists have conducted a woodcock banding project on Sherburne Wildlife Management Area and Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge since 1990 and have expanded the project throughout the state in the last several years. This project is designed to monitor woodcock harvest, hunter success, and woodcock movement patterns.
To date, biologists have banded more than 3,000 woodcock. They collect data from bands recovered from woodcock hunters in the area as well as throughout their entire range extending into Canada through the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab.
The Cajun Bécasse Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society, Ruffed Grouse Society, and American Woodcock Society have funded some of the research and management activities on Sherburne WMA and Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge that benefit woodcock and other wildlife.
Studies on woodcock habitat use on WMAs in Louisiana provide the most up-to-date information on how to effectively manage habitat for woodcock. As with any wildlife, numbers of woodcock are directly tied to habitat, with more individuals found in quality habitat than in poor habitat. Diurnal (daytime) habitat for woodcock consists of thickets with relatively sparse ground cover up to 6 inches above the ground for easy foraging and dense cover greater than 6 inches above the ground to provide protective overhead cover. The soils must be moist and rich with abundant earthworms for feeding. To create this type of habitat to attract woodcock, we make patch clearcuts of approximately 5 acres in size, small group selection cuts within the forest, or even single tree selection.
Woodcock use nocturnal (nighttime) habitat for both courtship and feeding. Old fields containing patches of cover, such as brush, make good nocturnal habitat for woodcock. We maintain nocturnal habitat by mowing, burning, spraying herbicides, and encouraging native shrubs. Burning can create some of the best habitat for woodcock because it removes layers of grass and dead vegetation but leaves a few scattered stalks and patches of cover that conceal feeding woodcock. Research conducted on Sherburne WMA to determine what habitat management treatments create optimal nocturnal habitat for American woodcock indicate that early successional habitat consisting of small trees can be set back by mowing or burning but that sites should not be mowed in consecutive years. Consecutive annual mowing results in too little debris and encroachment of grass. A good strategy may be to mow a site one year and the next year either burn the site or allow it to remain fallow.
Research Articles and Publications
- Nocturnal Woodcock Habitat Management in Louisiana
- Woodcock Migration Study
- Woodcock Habitat Characteristics
- Sexing and Aging American Woodcock
- Woodcock Wingbee Article
- Gonadal Characteristics of February-Harvested Woodcock in Louisiana
- Winter Survival Rates of American Woodcock in South Central Louisiana
- Diurnal Microhabitat Use by American Woodcock Wintering in East Texas
- Microhabitat Characteristics of Nocturnal Roost Sites of American Woodcock in East Texas