Our newest woodcock tracking project shifts our research effort from the migrations of our winter visitors towards the localised movement of our resident British birds. This small resident population appear to be in trouble, with declines of 29% in the last ten years, and a more detailed understanding of their behaviour and habitat requirements is a vital aid to their conservation.
New GPS loggers are allowing us to study resident woodcock in a way that has never previously been possible. These GPS tags differ from the satellite-transmitters we use to study migration in that they have a much shorter lifespan – but in that time take more accurate, finer-scale data. Whilst satellite tags are perfect for tracking large scale migrations across continents these new GPS loggers are much better at following the more localised movements of our resident birds during the breeding season.
At dawn and dusk, male woodcock fly large ‘roding’ circuits in order to attract the attention of a female. By knowing the average area and duration of these displays we can better interpret the results of our national Breeding Woodcock Survey which use counts of roding males to estimate abundance. We will be able to measure how the size and distribution of woodland within the landscape affects courtship behaviour and whether these displays are dependent upon specific habitat features.
GPS loggers will also be able to record the daily movements of our tagged woodcock showing us the different types of habitats utilised over the course of the breeding season. This will highlight the kind of landscape features important to woodcock when roosting, feeding, nesting and chick-rearing and in turn inform future woodcock conservation measures.