Woodcock Newsletter

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What have we learnt so far?

To date, the Woodcock Watch project has caught and satellite-tagged 59 woodcock. These have been tagged at a range of wintering sites across the UK and are roughly categorised into the following 7 cohorts: Cornwall, Southern England, Western England, Northern England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

We have tracked British wintering birds back to breeding grounds in 8 different countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Belarus, Latvia and Poland. These birds have migrated across 8 additional European nations in the process, including France, Germany, Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Woodcock in handOf the 59 birds we tagged, 5 did not migrate at all. These are instances where we have unintentionally tagged birds that belong to our small resident British population (it is impossible to distinguish these from migrant birds based on a physical examination). Of those that did migrate, migration distance ranged from approximately 900 km for Denmark and Norway to over 7,000 km for Western Siberia. The average migration was around 3,000 km.

We had expected to see associations between particular wintering sites and breeding sites, but this was not clearly the case. In fact, we saw that birds from many different breeding sites may be present on the same wintering ground. Nevertheless, as the study progresses, we are eventually beginning to some broad patterns. Generally a higher proportion of Scandinavian birds winter in Scotland and Ireland, whilst birds in Southern England or Wales are slightly more likely to be of Russian origin. It has only been possible to see this pattern by tagging a large sample of woodcock across the British Isles.

Of the woodcock we have tracked over multiple years, the vast majority have remained faithful to a single breeding site. We also saw that many individuals were faithful to a particular wintering area; often making migrations of many thousands of miles to return to the same field or wood each year. This has not been universally true, however, as some birds have shown more flexibility in their migration strategy. For those birds that do not return to the same site year after year, seasonal variation in weather appears to be the biggest factor in the selection of a wintering site.

Most migrant woodcock leave between mid-March and early April. This was highly dependent on weather. In 2013, a cold year, mean departure date was nearly 2 weeks later than for 2014 when conditions were much milder.

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