Woodcock population stable for second year

By Joe Albert

Staff Writer

St. Paul – Their numbers may not be on the rise, but woodcock
enthusiasts nonetheless can take comfort in the fact that the
birds’ population apparently is stable.

For the second year in a row, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
trend estimates show two separate woodcock populations – Eastern
and Central regions – that are neither increasing nor, more
importantly, decreasing.

That hasn’t happened since 1992, said Jim Kelley, woodcock
specialist for the USFWS in St. Paul.

“Since then, we’ve always had a negative trend,” he said. “Now
we’ve had two years in a row where it’s been pretty level. If we
can keep that going, that would be really good.”

Still, the long-term woodcock trend is declining: 1.8 percent
per year in the Central Region; 2 percent per year in the Eastern
Region.

Woodcock counts in Minnesota during annual singing-ground
surveys, which tally the number of singing males heard in various
locations, are among the highest in the Central Region.

“We are, in essence, one of the bright, shining spots,” said
Rick Horton, biologist with the Ruffed Grouse Society. “We produce
a lot of woodcock and can help offset losses elsewhere.”

While Kelley is pleased the population trend has leveled off the
past two years, why it’s happened is a mystery.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” he said.

There haven’t been any large-scale habitat programs across the
woodcock range, though the USFWS and others have done things like
reforestation to create the early successional habitat the birds
thrive in, Kelley said.

In addition, the USFWS in 1997 restricted woodcock hunting
regulations, though Kelley isn’t sure if there’s a correlation.

“Maybe there’s something going on there, too,” Kelley said.
“It’s really hard to say.”

Habitat improvements in the state likely have helped, Horton
said. He also noted that since woodcock are in Minnesota for about
half of the year, habitat in other states also is paramount.

“It’s not all up to us,” Horton said. “There’s a myriad of
problems.”

Looking forward to fall

There is some concern about about how the weather earlier this
year will affect woodcock populations this fall, said Steve Wilds,
regional migratory bird chief for the USFWS.

Initial reports from crews banding woodcocks suggest at least
some birds came through just fine, since normal-sized broods were
spotted, Wilds said.

“Generally, woodcocks are really tough and they can hold up to a
lot of weather better than some of the other birds,” he said.

And the summer precipitation likely means birds won’t have much
trouble finding moist soil and earthworms, Wilds said.

Categories: Hunting News

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