24/10/2015
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Breeding Woodcock in decline

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Numbers of breeding Woodcock have fallen dramatically in Britain in the last decade. Photo by Jason Thompson (commons.wikimedia.org, CC BY 2.0).
Numbers of breeding Woodcock have fallen dramatically in Britain in the last decade. Photo by Jason Thompson (commons.wikimedia.org, CC BY 2.0).

Results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Woodcock Survey show that numbers of the British breeding population of this enigmatic wader have fallen by nearly one third since 2003.

The survey was undertaken in 2013 by the BTO and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). It provides the most recent breeding population estimate, as well as an assessment of breeding range change, since the first survey in 2003.

Woodcock’s breeding population was estimated at 55,241 males, representing a 29 per cent decline since 2003. The percentage of wooded survey squares occupied by the species decreased from 47 per cent in 2003 to 37 per cent in 2013. Annual counts from occupied sites monitored between 2003 and 2013 also indicate a decrease in abundance of 40 per cent during the 10-year period.

Woodcock is currently Amber listed as a Species of Conservation Concern, resulting from recent moderate declines in Europe and Russia. However, the scale of these changes is uncertain due to a lack of accurate data because of the nocturnal habits and cryptic behaviour of the bird.

A bespoke survey methodology is required to assess numbers accurately, using the number of ‘roding’ flight passes to estimate the number of individuals. Roding happens at dawn and dusk, when male birds fly large circuits and call to advertise their presence to receptive females. Counts of the number of passes of ‘roding’ males can yield a measure of local abundance when calibrated using independent data derived from analysis of the vocal patterns of individual males.

Further research is required to fully understand the reasons for the decline. According to the BTO, however, the fall may be associated with changes in woodland structure, perhaps though management practices or rising deer numbers. Little is currently known about breeding productivity, over-winter survival and the potential impact of hunting.

Reference: Current status and recent trend of the Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola as a breeding bird in Britain.

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Written by: Birdwatch news team