Thousands of woodcock are heading to the UK as temperatures in Russia over winter can get to below -20 degrees Celsius, say the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. As part of the Trust’s ‘Woodcock Watch’ program, 24 birds are being monitored by satellite tagging technology, revealing the flight paths and patterns of woodcock for the first time. It shows that the migration of a woodcock will typically be made up of long stints in the air – between 600 and 1,000 kilometres – with stops of seven to 15 days in between.
The GWCT’s Dr Andrew Hoodless explains, “We have tagged birds at six sites across the UK – from Cornwall and Norfolk to West Wales, the North of England, Scotland and Ireland. One of the first birds to be tracked last year called Monkey has astonished us with his achievements – flying to central Siberia to breed and then back to the UK to overwinter and repeating his spring migration to Siberia again this year. We estimate that he has now flown at least 38,000 kilometres (23,750 miles) during his lifetime.
“This year Monkey was joined in Siberia by two more of our satellite tagged birds. Clearly, Siberia is an important breeding area for some of the woodcock that winter in Britain, a fact that we would never have discovered without satellite tracking. We have also learned that the woodcock are extremely faithful to both their wintering and breeding grounds, returning to the same sites year after year and, on occasions, even to the same field in winter. This is an incredible feat for such small birds.”
He went on, “It is already apparent that the migrating birds are late this winter because the weather has been quite mild in continental Europe until recently, but we now see large numbers arriving. Finding out this kind of information through our project is important and will help inform international conservation policies as well as being of huge fascination to us all.”
The GWCT is also appealing for volunteers to help the research effort. Dr Andrew Hoodless has asked the shooting community to keep an eye on bag records – particularly those that are organised by date – for this season and previous years, as this will help to build up a picture of woodcock numbers and distributions. This winter, the GWCT will also be looking at body condition of woodcock and snipe, and would like to hear from any shoots able to donate three or four from the bag to perform an analysis.
Dr Hoodless says, “I appreciate what good eating they are, but hope that a few can be donated in the name of science!”
You can contact Andrew Hoodless directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01425 651031 if you have any bag data you can share, or can donate a woodcock for carcass analysis.