Frequently Asked Questions
The American woodcock needs young forest and shrublands for feeding, nesting, and hiding from predators. The amount of that “early successional habitat” has dwindled for many years because of natural forest succession, as areas of young forest have become middle-aged and older.
Partners carrying out the Woodcock Management Plan have begun to halt the rangewide woodcock population decline by making habitat throughout the Northeast and the Northcentral states over the last decade. Dan McAuley, a woodcock biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says, "Based on Singing Ground Survey data, we've seen no decline during the last 10 to 12 years. Through several telemetry monitoring studies, we've observed a dramatic increase in woodcock numbers in areas where habitat is actively being created."
Basically, it’s young trees and shrubs growing together thickly. Young forest can be an old field coming up in saplings, a wetland thick with shrubs, or trees springing back on a wooded tract after logging. Woodcock thrive in these dense habitats.
Generally only 10 to 20 years. After that, it becomes older forest, which is less useful to woodcock.
A wide range of creatures use young forest during part or all of their life cycles. Among them are ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares, wild turkeys, black bears, white-tailed deer, wood and box turtles, and a broad range of songbirds.
Natural forces once caused an ebb and flow of thousands of acres of regrowing forest and shrubland. But we no longer let fires burn unchecked or beavers build dam complexes that flood vast areas of woodland and kill trees. Now it's our responsibility to recreate such natural processes through careful habitat management.
A lot more than we have now. Scientists estimate that 7 to 15 percent of eastern North America used to be young forest before humans changed the landscape and began preventing natural forces, such as fire and floods, from making large expanses of this habitat. Today, many forests have less than 5 percent of their area in a young growth stage.
Unless we actively create young forest, many songbirds will rarely be seen or heard. Woodcock and ruffed grouse will become rarer. Mammals like the New England cottontail and Appalachian cottontail could end up on the Endangered Species list – or maybe even go extinct.
They mimic natural events like wildfires and windstorms by using controlled burning and heavy-duty machines to knock back older growth and stimulate the dense regrowth of trees and shrubs. They plant native shrubs for food and cover. Clearcut logging is a great way to create young-forest habitat; almost immediately, woodcock start using the cut-over areas.
Not if it's carefully sited and conducted. In fact, forest birds such as thrushes, tanagers, and warblers actually need the dense habitat that young forest provides, because after the nesting season, adult birds take their young into insect- and fruit-rich young forest to grow strong and build up fat before migration.
In general, making different age classes of woodland helps wildlife because it creates a mosaic of habitats – a richer and more-diverse forest that benefits a broad range of creatures and not just a select few. In heavily forested landscapes, research has shown that timber harvests do not cause forest fragmentation. But in heavily fragmented landscapes, clearcuts may lead to further fragmentation and increase the amount of “edge habitat,” something that can affect forest-interior birds. Seek out advice from a professional forester or a habitat biologist to minimize forest fragmentation.
Many federal and state wildlife agencies use logging to create young forest and improve overall woodland health while helping wildlife. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy, Audubon, the Ruffed Grouse Society, and the National Wild Turkey Federation have also launched management programs to create and renew young forest. Towns, land trusts, Native American tribes, and private citizens are also making young forest on lands they own or manage.
Logging provides jobs while yielding renewable forest products from furniture-grade wood to paper pulp to wood chips that can be burned to generate electricity. Other ways of creating young forest can be more expensive, but they are often worth it because they help protect our rich wildlife heritage.
Many outdoors-oriented people go birding or hunting in young forest and shrubland. They get great satisfaction from seeing abundant and diverse wildlife and knowing that habitat-management efforts are helping to bring back rare and declining species.
The many partners involved in the Woodcock Management Plan have set up a network of Habitat Demonstration Areas throughout the northeastern and northcentral states. You can find out more about these projects on this website.
Most land in the region is privately owned, so it’s important for wildlife’s sake that landowners help make and maintain young forest, especially in tracts 20 acres and larger. Check out the Young Forest Guide published by the Wildlife Management Institute. Contact your state wildlife agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or a certified forester to learn how to proceed. For projects that help wildlife, full or partial funding may be available. These habitat specialists can get you started.