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Male hatch year American woodcock fitted with a rump-mounted Lotek PinPoint GPS Argos transmitter at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Maine.

Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative: Tracking American Woodcock throughout Eastern North America

Alexander C. Fish1, Amber M. Roth1,2, and Erik J. Blomberg1

1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology, The University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA

2. School of Forest Resources, The University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA


The Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative (EWMRC) was initiated in 2017 to better understand migration ecology of American woodcock in the Atlantic Flyway.  Coordinated by the University of Maine, the EWMRC is a cooperative group of federal and state agencies, non-government organizations, and universities interested in understanding the full-annual-cycle movements of American woodcock, with a particular interest in migration.  We are building on similar research conducted by scientists at the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit who used Argos satellite transmitters to track American woodcock during migration in the western portion of their breeding range.  By tracking American woodcock in the eastern portion of their range, we hope to gain a comprehensive understanding of woodcock migratory movements throughout most of the species’ global range.  Cooperators will use this information to help plan habitat improvement projects, manage American woodcock hunting, evaluate timing of breeding season surveys, and increase our knowledge of the species’ ecology and avian migration in general.

American woodcock winter residency site near Richmond, Virginia. Each circle represents one GPS location.

One American woodcock marked at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine stopped over at the World Trade Center Tower Memorial in New York City.  He only spent one night before moving west of NYC for an extended stopover period.  

Fall migration tracks (September – December 2018) from American woodcock marked in eastern North America.  American woodcock marked farther west were more likely to migrate to the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and woodcock marked farther east tended to stay along states bordering the Atlantic Coast. 

AMWO Species Description

The American woodcock is a migratory forest game bird native to the eastern United States.  Monitoring efforts in Eastern North America have documented a decline of 1% per year for the past five decades.  American woodcock use their bill to probe for invertebrates, primarily earthworms, and are highly cryptic and secretive throughout most of the year.  Most American woodcock sightings occur during crepuscular flights (pre-dawn or post-dusk) or when breeding males display in the spring/early winter.  In general, American woodcock are difficult to observe during the non-breeding season and during migratory periods.  Most of our traditional understanding of American woodcock migration has been driven by hunter-harvested band returns and studies conducted at specific sites used by migrating birds to rest and refuel.  In Eastern North America there is a renewed interest in understanding migration ecology of the species using recent advances in animal biotelemetry that take advantage of satellite technology.

Transmitters/Tracking Technology

We are using PinPoint GPS Argos transmitters from Lotek, which are equipped with a platform transmitter terminal (PTT) for transmitting GPS locational data through the Argos satellite network.  The transmitters collect GPS locations at pre-programmed dates and times, and transmit them after every third location is collected.  Generally, during migration periods, we program tags to collect one location each day, so we receive relatively up-to-date information on each bird as it moves across the continent.  We have been working to capture American woodcock throughout their breeding range from southern Canada to Virginia, and their wintering range from the mid-Atlantic south to Florida and Alabama.  This range-wide capture effort will enable us to describe American woodcock migration ecology throughout their eastern range. 

Preliminary Results

As of January 2020, we have deployed 247 Argos transmitters on American woodcock in 3 Canadian provinces and 11 states, with most birds marked just prior to fall and spring migration.  Most American woodcock have provided us with at least one complete migratory route.  In general, spring migration is longer duration than fall migration and American woodcock use more stopover sites for longer durations. 

Migratory Movements of note

Slow vs fast Migrants – The duration of migration was highly variable with some American woodcock completing migration in as few as 2 days, while other can take as many as 73 days.  In general, longer migrations were from American woodcock marked farther north; however, some individuals just need more time to migrate than others.

Flight Distances – The distance that an American woodcock covered during a single migration flight was highly variable and likely dependent on factors such as wind direction and speed.  The longest single night flight distance recorded was ~1,000 kilometers (~630 miles)!!  Or, for spatial reference, migrating from southern Michigan to central Mississippi.  While most migration flights were shorter, this example helps to illustrate just how far American woodcock can fly under the right conditions.

Unique Stopover Locations – American woodcock use a variety of habitat throughout their migration, and we documented woodcock using nearly every type of habitat imaginable.  We have documented American woodcock using commercial forests, agricultural fields, suburban yards, industrial parks, and even the World Trade Center Tower Memorial in New York City!

Project Continuation

We will continue to deploy transmitters on American woodcock for the next few years and continue to expand the Cooperative to include new states/provinces and partners.  For more information on the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative, visit our website



This research was conducted in partnership with the following organizations and an army of dedicated folks.

Partners: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, American Woodcock Society, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Environmental and Climate Change Canada, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Ruffed Grouse Society, State University of New York – Cobleskill, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Geological Survey – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, University of Maine, University of Rhode Island, and Virginia Department Game and Inland Fisheries.

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