Tag Archives: American woodcock

Doing the Right Thing In the Right Place: Monarchs and Woodcock at Umbagog NWR

Today we’re taking a closer look at Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and the outstanding work they are doing to manage habitat for the American woodcock and the Monarch butterfly!

Located on the border of New Hampshire and Maine, Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge sits in the heart of the Northern Forest, where the southern deciduous forest transitions into the northern boreal forest. The diversity of habitats in the 32,800 acre refuge provide vital breeding and foraging areas for a wide range of wildlife. Staff actively manage the refuge’s forests to improve a range of habitat conditions, and this variety of habitats accommodate a suit of species of conservation concern. The American woodcock is one of these species. Woodcock utilize early successional habitat for nesting, feeding, courtship, and roosting. The long billed bird is best known for its throaty peent calls and aerial displays at dusk.

Managing for the American woodcock can prove demanding as the upland bird has four very specific habitat requirements. Manipulating the land is intense work, but the reward of conserving this species is worth it. As an added benefit, other wildlife species utilize this management strategy, including the monarch butterfly. Consisting of weedy fields and small shrubs, early successional habitat allows for the healthy growth of milkweed, the monarch’s host plant.

This five acre field was the sight of last year's milkweed planting. Mature milkweed with eventually spread and establish itself over the next few years.

This five acre field was the site of last year’s milkweed planting. Mature milkweed will eventually spread and establish itself over the next few years.

Much like a bird, the monarch butterfly migrates each winter to Mexico, utilizing milkweed and wildflower habitat throughout Canada, United States, and Mexico. With both monarchs and woodcock populations on the decline, habitat restoration is of utmost importance! Here’s how Umbagog helped two species for the price of one.

To provide proper roosting habitat for the American woodcock, patches of five acre fields are bush hogged on a 2-3 year alternating rotation, to ensure the availability of continuous woodcock roosting habitat. The maintained fields bloom with various types of native wildflowers, a great nectar sources for pollinators! To boost the healthy growth of milkweed, refuge staff works closely with the local elementary schools to propagate the young milkweed seedlings. Working with students allows Umbagog staff to reach out to the local community about the species they are working to conserve. The students also lend a helping hand to busy staff by caring for these plants and ensuring they survive. For the past two summers, Youth Conservation Corps students have also aided the refuge staff by planting the propagated milkweed in maintained roost fields throughout the refuge, boosting habitat values for both the monarch butterfly and the American woodcock.

By working to improve habitat and educating students about the importance of these species, the US Fish and Wildlife Services aims to preserve habitats and instill in others the knowledge to save our declining ecosystems. Click here to learn more about monarch conservation.


Backyard Birding: Get to Know the Remarkable, Crepuscular American Woodcock

By Lee Halasz

Lee Halasz is a native of Australia and is a former conservation professional with the Queensland State Government. He and his family now reside in western Massachusetts, and he volunteered his time with us in 2015. This spring, we feature a series of bird stories Lee wrote to celebrate #birdyear. 

The American woodcock is one of the first migratory birds to return north for the season, and the male’s spectacular mating flight is worth a glimpse – but to see it, you need to adopt some of this bird’s more crepuscular habits!

Ever since I first heard the word ‘crepuscular,’ it has been a favorite of mine. It means ‘active at dawn and dusk’ and is often used to describe wildlife activity. Many mammals are crepuscular, and certainly any human outside at these times of day will attest to how magic dawn and dusk are.

The American woodcock is a largely crepuscular, ground-dwelling bird in the shorebird family. Few would doubt that is strange looking, with a long beak, big eyes and a large head. But it is also beautiful in its own right, much as pelicans and toucans are beautiful.

Am Woodcock on Nest

American Woodcock on a nest (Credit: Carlos Guindon/USFWS Contractor)

Strange in More Ways Than One

Like many of its shorebird relatives, the woodcock has a long flexible bill for feeding. It consumes a variety of invertebrates, but especially earthworms. Its large eyes are uniquely positioned on its large head, allowing the woodcock to see in most directions at once, probably very useful for detecting danger while its head is down feeding.

I have seen a woodcock during daylight hours, and it slowly retreated away from me, but with its amazing head and eye configuration, it was watching me every step of the way.

While most of its relatives spend their time at the edges of water bodies, the woodcock lives in and around moist vegetation, especially thickets and regenerating forests adjacent to open areas.

In summer it is found over most of eastern North America, but in fall the northern populations migrate south, and in winter the species is largely found in the southeastern U.S. In spring, woodcock are among the earliest migrants to return to and breed in the northern parts of their range.

While American woodcock are generally quite cryptic, the display flight that the males perform at dusk in spring brings the species into prominence. A male will launch into flight over an open area – circling, fluttering and zig-zagging high in the air, all while his outer wing feathers produce a loud twittering sound.Unfortunately, woodcock populations have declined by about half over the last four decades. The growth of thickets and young forest into mature forest is believed to be the primary reason for their decline. While mature forest is great habitat for many wildlife species, American woodcock and numerous other types of wildlife, can’t live in mature forest. Over the last century there has been a trend toward less disturbance (natural and intentional) of forests, which has resulted in reduced habitat for woodcock and some other declining fauna such as golden-winged warbler and New England cottontail.

young forest

A patch of young forest and shrubbery (Credit: USFWS)

Fortunately there is growing recognition of the need for more young forest in our landscapes. The Young Forest Project promotes thoughtful forest disturbance to create regenerating habitat, and several organizations specifically advocate for American woodcock habitat, such as through The American Woodcock Conservation Plan.

So, there is an introduction to our crepuscular, forest-dwelling ‘shorebird,’ with twittering wing feathers. Now is the season when males are displaying. May they grace moist young forest near you.