Habitat - Feeding Areas

  1. A wide variety of plant species can offer feeding areas and daytime (diurnal) habitat for woodcock. The best habitats will be in an "early successional" stage, in which a dense growth of young trees shield woodcock from their predators. Woodcock will home in on sites where the soil supports abundant earthworms, a favorite food. Birds will sometimes use more-mature forest if there is a dense understory growing beneath the trees. Woodcock rarely use stands of conifers (hemlock, pine, spruce, fir, etc.) in the species' northern breeding range.
  2. What to Look For:
    1. Reverting farmland, particularly abandoned, overtopped apple orchards, when these lie within one-half mile of forested or shrub/scrub wetlands.
    2. Riparian habitats: zones of rich, moist soil near streams and other water bodies. Streams should be Class 2 and higher (having at least one upstream branch). To be considered as high potential for woodcock habitat, stream courses should be low-gradient, slow-flowing, and in an area with flat topography.
    3. Lower benches: young forest or shrubland habitats adjacent to riparian habitats and extending up to two benches or terraces uphill from the wetlands edge. Suitable would be any young-forest habitat within one-half mile of a stream, wetland, pond, or other body of water, including floodplains, valley floors, and forested coves. Refer to the forest types mentioned below for a more-specific picture of the feeding areas that woodcock prefer.
    4. In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory (nwi.fws.gov), important woodcock habitats include the following wetland types: Palustrine Shrub/Scrub and Palustrine Forested. Check out the wetlands mapper tool on the NWI website, or better yet, view the NWI data on Google Earth (http://wetlandswms.er.usgs.gov/). Other smaller wetlands may not be typed by NWI but often can be recognized on the ground by the presence of perched water tables, seeps, vernal pools, or hardpan or shallow-to-pan soils.
  3. Characteristics:
    1. Moist, rich soils with abundant earthworms.
    2. In young forest and shrubland habitats, feeding areas should have more than 10,000 stems per acre of young trees or shrubs. In many cases, these shrubland habitats are regenerating hardwood clearcuts between 3 and 15 years of age.
    3. Preferred forest types for woodcock feeding habitats include shade-intolerant hardwoods such as aspen, alder, gray or paper birch, and pin cherry.
    4. Secondary forest types include young forest and shrubland size classes (with associated shrub layers) in the following forest types: northern hardwood; red spruce/balsam fir/hardwood mixtures; cedar/red maple mixtures; and elm/ash/red maple.
    5. In general, most preferred forest types include trees that are prone to root suckering after they have been cut down.