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Population healthy, for now
Woodcock are found from Minnesota to the East Coast and from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada. Their population has been stable over the past 10 years, following a downward trend likely caused by a loss of young aspen, key habitat.
“Minnesota is one of the states we’ve actually had a stable trend since the beginning,’’ Cooper said.
Logging for the state’s forest products industry has created and maintained young aspen stands here. The birds feel safe in the thick cover, using their long bills to probe into soft earth for worms and bugs.
“Woodcock like the dense regrowth of the forest after disturbance, whether from fire or logging,’’ Cooper said.
Most of the woodcock moving through Minnesota spend the winter in Louisiana. One concern here is the recent decline in the state’s forest products industry, which could result in diminished habitat for woodcock and ruffed grouse.
Despite years of research, much isn’t known about woodcock.
“We don’t know a lot about their migration,’’ Cooper said. “How long it takes them to get from Minnesota to Louisiana, how many stops they make along the way and how long they stay at different staging areas.’’
Cooper and fellow researchers are experimenting with tiny GPS transmitters that they plan to affix to some woodcock this fall to answer some of those questions. “We’re testing the technology first,’’ Cooper said.
The transmitters, which weigh about 9 grams (about one-third of an ounce), use solar batteries.
“When the birds are in thick cover, we don’t know if they will get enough sunlight to charge them,’’ Cooper said. “It’s a long ways from being operational. But if it works, we will find out a lot about woodcock.’’
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