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Vermont Fish & Wildlife participates in eastern woodcock migration research cooperative

Woodcock by Chris Ingram

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has joined the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative, an international research collaboration developed to better understand the migratory ecology of the American woodcock along the Eastern seaboard through the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology.

A total of 18 woodcock were captured and outfitted with GPS units in three locations across Vermont in September with field work led by PhD students from the University of Maine with support from members of Vermont Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, the Vermont chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and Audubon Vermont.

Directed by the University of Maine, this study is designed to provide precise and timely GPS data to track the seasonal movement and habitat selection of American woodcock during pre-migration periods in the Northeast and southern Canadian provinces, southerly migration paths and stopovers, wintering periods in southeastern states, and reverse migration routes to northern breeding grounds.  The goals of the program include identifying when woodcock initiate migration, migrational stopover sites, duration of migration for individuals, and survival during migration.

“This is a very important step to better understand woodcock in Vermont,” said Migratory Game Bird Biologist David Sausville.  “Our involvement is a critical piece in understanding their behavior and population distribution across the entire eastern management region.  Wildlife biologists have observed a slow decline in woodcock numbers during the past four decades in the Northeast.  We know very little about their migration patterns and habitat utilization relative to spring breeding and pre-migration periods in the fall.”

“The information obtained from this study will answer questions about habitat use during various seasons and life stages, as well as migration mortality that will help us to fine tune our hunting season dates and work with habitat management partners to provide critical habitat needs during all stages of the woodcock lifespan here in Vermont.”

Vermont Fish & Wildlife purchased five GPS units, with funding from state and federally matched funds.  Vermont cooperative partners providing additional financial contributions for the remaining units came from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S Forest Service, Wildlife Management Institute, and the Vermont chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

“We look forward to learning valuable information obtained from these 18 individuals and we plan to return with another round of deployments next year as we continue to refine and improve our woodcock management and habitat programs,” added Sausville.

For information on becoming a Vermont cooperative partner, email David Sausville at [email protected]

To learn more about the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative, visit woodcockmigration.org and click on the “Migration” tab to follow Vermont’s study of the birds as they migrate to southern wintering grounds.

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