Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Washington County, Maine

About the Moosehorn

The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge hosts the largest and longest-lived research program into the biology, population dynamics, and habitat needs of the American woodcock.

The refuge is near Calais in Washington County, eastern Maine. Waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds, and raptors breed on the refuge and rest and feed there during spring and fall migrations. The land includes hills, streams, lakes, bogs, and old farmland and fields that were formerly used for growing blueberries. Aspen, maple, birch, white pine, spruce, and fir dominate the uplands.

The refuge has two divisions: the Baring (the refuge headquarters is located here); and the Edmunds, about 15 miles farther south. Together, they total approximately 28,900 acres.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

On the refuge, around 2,000 acres of forest are currently managed to benefit woodcock. Wildlife technicians periodically mow or burn 60 acres of lowbush blueberry and old-field habitats to keep them functioning as roosting fields and singing grounds. Feeding habitats, including alder-dominated shrublands, amount to about 500 acres.

Photo of dense aspen used as woodcock habitat

The Moosehorn Refuge has many stands of aspen, a key tree species for woodcock and other young-forest wildlife.

Each year, refuge personnel supervise cutting on seven management units in the Baring Division and five units in the Edmunds Division. Through commercial logging and the use of brontosaurus and other machinery, workers cut down trees on 5-acre patches. A 40- to 50-year rotation helps maintain different forest age classes to meet all woodcock needs. In alder stands, technicians cut 60- to 100-foot-wide strips on a 20-year rotation, with new strips made every four to five years.


As early as the 1930s, biologists became concerned that woodcock numbers were falling because of habitat loss. In 1937 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Moosehorn Refuge as a research area where wildlife managers could develop, test, and demonstrate habitat management techniques to help boost the woodcock population.

Before the area became a refuge, the more fertile open lands had been farmed extensively. Landowners had logged off woodlands in the area several times, and in 1933 wildfires swept through the northern half of what is now the Baring Division. This land-use history set the stage for the vigorous growth of a young, early successional forest composed mainly of aspen, alder, red maple, and birch: excellent woodcock habitat. But as woodlands grew older, both on the refuge and throughout the woodcock’s northern breeding range, the quality of the habitat declined and the woodcock population fell.

In 1976, biologists at Moosehorn began a major research effort aimed at restoring early successional habitat and reversing the woodcock’s decline.

Woodcock on the Moosehorn Refuge

Biologists have studied woodcock on the Moosehorn Refuge since 1976.

At first, researchers made 1-acre clearcuts and somewhat larger strip cuts in hardwood and alder stands and then studied how woodcock used the cut-over, regenerating areas. The biologists tried different cutting and controlled-burning techniques and time periods to see what yielded the best habitat. Ultimately, they found that 5-acre clearcuts, if located close to one another, amply meet the life needs of woodcock, and that a 20- to 40-year cutting rotation in hardwoods, particularly alders and aspens, provides the density and structure of cover in which the birds thrive.

Between 1976 and 2008, while the woodcock population in Maine (and throughout the Northeast) gradually fell, the population rose on the managed lands of the Moosehorn. In one sampling index, the number of singing male woodcock heard on specified singing-ground survey routes in the Moosehorn during the spring breeding season rose from 44 birds in the early 1980s to 91 birds in 2008.

Today, researchers use radio telemetry, leg-banding, and springtime surveys of singing males to study how woodcock continue to interact with their habitat, food resources, and predators.

Biologists also monitor migratory songbirds that breed on the managed and unmanaged areas at Moosehorn. For species that depend on young-forest habitat, such as the chestnut-sided warbler and the American redstart, populations have stayed stable or have risen on Moosehorn NWR, while declining at the state and regional levels. Species that breed in more-mature woods also use the cut-over areas, switching to these sites in late summer and early fall and feeding on the nutrient-rich fruits of small trees and shrubs, including pin cherry, dogwood, and Juneberry.

Funding and Partners

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center), University of Maine, University of Maine at Machias, Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Ruffed Grouse Society, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge is south of U.S. Route 1 near Calais, Maine. From Route 1, follow signs to the refuge headquarters, about 3 miles south on Charlotte Road. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., except holidays. An information booth provides brochures and maps. The refuge is open to the public daily, from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

Near the refuge headquarters, the Woodcock Trail is a short walking circuit with signs identifying vegetation and habitat types and explaining management practices.

In the Baring Division, visitors can see management efforts along the Auto Tour Route (4 miles, open in September and October) in the Vose Pond Management Unit, and on the Headquarters Loop Trail in the Charlotte Road Management Unit.

Visitors can call ahead to arrange guided tours and, depending on the season, may be able to accompany wildlife biologists doing field work. Contact the refuge at 207-454-7161 or 103 Headquarters Road, Baring ME 04694. See

More Information

The booklet “A Landowner’s Guide to Woodcock Management in the Northeast,” by G. F. Sepik, R.B. Owen, and M.W. Coulter, first published in 1981 by the University of Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, is based on research conducted at the Moosehorn. The publication is aimed at landowners with small or large holdings. It is available online at