By Joe Albert Staff Writer
St. Paul — For the third year in a row, the 10-year population
trend for woodcock in the Central Region, which includes Minnesota,
remained steady, according to estimates released recently by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Essentially, there has been no change in the population in the
10-year periods from 1994-2004, 1995-2005, and 1996-2006 in both
the Central and Eastern regions.
“Which is good news,” said Jim Kelley, USFWS woodcock specialist
in St. Paul. “We’ve had a long string of years with significant
Indeed, woodcock populations have been sliding since the 1960s,
when the USFWS began surveying them.
There was an 8-percent decline in woodcock in the Central Region
compared to last year, but Kelley doesn’t put a lot of stock in
year-to-year population fluxes. Those could be the result of things
like weather conditions at the time of the survey, or poor
reproduction the previous spring, he said.
Interestingly, Kelley said, the stabilization of the woodcock
population is beginning to match up with restrictive regulations
put in place in the 1997 season. At that time, the season length
was reduced from 65 days to 45 days, and the bag limit dropped from
five birds to three.
Officials aren’t sure if a cause-and-effect relationship is in
“I’m not going to come out and say the result has been because
of those restrictions, but it is awfully interesting,” Kelley
The report also includes woodcock harvest from last fall, based
on Harvest Information Program numbers.
About 12,000 woodcock hunters in the state harvested about
42,000 birds, according to the report. The total harvest in the
Central Region was about 225,000 birds, and about 297,000 were
harvested across the nation.
The USFWS is continuing to work in Minnesota with groups such as
Woodcock Minnesota to do on-the-ground habitat work, Kelley
“We’re trying to get some really local-level habitat work done,”
he said. “Hopefully we’ll expand on that in the next few
Woodcock Minnesota has a couple of projects going on, said Randy
Havel, group president.
The group completed singing ground surveys on five plots in Pine
County this spring. The plan is to construct an observation point
at the best plot so people next spring can see the woodcock mating
ritual, Havel said.
Too, there will be landscaping and habitat work done on the
plots to see which ones the birds prefer.
And in Cass County, the group is working with the land
department, timber companies, and others. Timber companies, before
they purchase land from landowners, “cruise” the land to see what’s
on it. That costs about $200 to the landowner, and is a stumbling
block, Havel said.
So Woodcock Minnesota is picking up the “cruising” cost, and
requests repayment from the landowner if the land is sold. The
habitat is altered, then work begins to identify which habitat is
most ideal for woodcock.
The plan is to use the information as a model for a national
woodcock recovery program, Havel said.
Mourning doves heard during surveys in the Central Unit, which
includes Minnesota, decreased significantly between 2005 and 2006,
as well as during the past 10 years, according to a report released
by the USFWS.
Across the nation, the dove population has dropped during the 41
years the call-count survey has been performed.
The report also included dove-hunting information from the 2005
season, which showed decreases in the number of hunters, and the
number of doves harvested.
In 2004, about 14,000 Minnesota hunters killed 107,000 birds.
Last year, federal estimates peg the number of hunters at 6,000,
and the harvest at 48,800 birds.
The drop doesn’t concern Bill Penning, DNR farmland wildlife
program coordinator. DNR estimates will be out in a few weeks.
In 2004, Minnesota held its first season in nearly 60 years.
People likely were excited to try it, and some dropped out. The
number of hunters who take up dove hunting likely will grow from
6,000, Penning said.
“It’s still new,” he said. “Minnesota hunters are still trying
to figure out if they want to do it or not.”