Charting the Life Cycle of the American Woodcock Today to Make Science-Based Decisions Tomorrow

 

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The American woodcock, perhaps one of the most underappreciated traditional game birds, offers a true hunting challenge. Unfortunately, population indices across their range suggest a long-term decline, most likely from loss of breeding habitat and landscape level changes.

The Michigan DNR volunteer banding program provides an estimate of woodcock survival, showing a decrease in abundance since records started in 1963. Management responses to the decrease in woodcock numbers have included restricting harvest opportunities, season lengths, and daily bag limits.

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Woodcock populations are relatively stable in boreal hardwood transition areas, however in prairie hardwood transition areas populations are in decline. Michigan populations are estimated to be somewhere in the middle. SCI Foundation is proud to partner with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, SCI Michigan Chapters, and Michigan State University to study the so far unknown relationship between predation rates and nesting success and how these rates are tied to landscape characteristics.

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While nest survival has been relatively good, ranging from 43-67%, this project will estimate nesting density, nesting success and fledging survival in two distinct landscapes over three years. Identifying predators responsible for predation of woodcock nests and young will also help Michigan DNR make science-based decisions regarding their unique predator-prey relationship.

Research will continue through 2019 and will lead to wildlife management decisions that will benefit other local game birds such as the ruffled grouse. At a wide scale, we need to understand migration, breeding, wintering habitat quality, and predation. The more data we have on game birds like the woodcock, the more likely responsible science-based decisions will be made by lawmakers.

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The SCI Flint, Lansing Area, and NOVI Chapters have supported this research, doubled by SCI Foundation’s matching grant program. You can learn more about SCI Foundation’s 2016 matching grant projects here on the First for Wildlife blog.