Three American Woodcock captured at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge last fall are playing a major role in a project aimed at tracking the birds’ migratory moves. The three are among several woodcock carrying tiny solar-powered satellite transmitters that mark locations every 48 hours.


You can follow the birds’ movements both on wintering grounds and as they begin spring migration back to Minnesota. (That should be underway very soon.) Go to


One of the birds was in southern Arkansas yesterday, Sunday, March 8, moving north from Louisiana, where it had spent most of the winter. A second bird was in western Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border. It, too, had moved north from Louisiana. The third bird was in northwestern Mississippi on March 4. On the maps, click on the colored dots to find and track the birds.


Project sponsors — multiple organizations including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — plan to have 45 birds carrying transmitters a year from now.


The transmitters are similar to those being used to follow migration of Purple Martins from nesting locations in North Dakota. The transmitters placed on Snowy Owls during the 2013-14 winter, including a bird that over-wintered here, are similar, but download information via cell-phone towers.


The transmitters on the woodcock must be recovered for the information to be secured.


This has nothing to do with the tracking project, but below is a photo of a woodcock head and bill. I found this last spring at a location where the birds had been preforming courtship displays. I’ve no idea how the bird lost its head. 


I found the bill interesting. The lower third of the bill contains sensitive nerve endings that help the bird locate earthworms, a major food item. Look closely for the tiny holes that I believe aid in prey location. The tip of the upper mandible can be opened while the bill is underground, allowing the bird to grasp worms and pull them from the ground. The bird’s tongue and the underside of the mandible are rough-surfaced to provide a good grip. The bird then sucks the worm into its bill.


Woodcock return to Minnesota from now through early May, with mid-April a migration peak. Warmer weather could advance the later dates.