Rutgers Student's Crowd-Source Campaign to Fund Woodcock Research

NEWARK, NJ: What happens when birds breed in old industrial sites? Kathleen Farley, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at Rutgers-Newark, has begun a study of the American woodcock, a shorebird adapted to living in wooded uplands, after finding numbers of these birds breeding on post-industrial sites in New Jersey.

American woodcock chick

Newly hatched woodcock chick. Woodcock breed on old industrial sites reclaimed by young forest. Researcher Kathleen Farley plans to study woodcock that use such habitats in New Jersey./E. Dresser

Farley recently launched a crowd-funding initiative to support her research. Contributions are being collected at Farley hopes to raise $4570 by January 15, 2017.

Says Farley: "My interest in woodcock came about quite by chance -- chance observations of woodcock using highly polluted lands" in New Jersey.

The American woodcock is a game species whose numbers have declined roughly 2 percent per year in recent decades, in large part owing to habitat loss.

New Jersey has a long history of leading in industry and development; as decades have passed and as technology has evolved, many factories and other industrial installations have become outmoded and abandoned. Now, many of these former hives of industry have been reclaimed by young trees and shrubs, offering what may prove to be suitable habitat for wildlife.

Gareth Russell, Department Chair of Biological Sciences at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, supports Farley’s efforts. "In the U.S., post-industrial landscapes are found wherever people live in significant numbers," he says. "How they develop as nature takes hold again affects the environment around a large fraction of the population."

Russell adds: "Woodcock are normally an 'indicator' species, meaning that their presence is associated with other kinds of wildlife. Kathleen is asking if woodcock on post-industrial sites have normal behavior and ecology, in which case their presence suggests a thriving ecosystem."

post-industrial site in New Jersey

Woodcock and other wildlife have taken up residence in abandoned industrial sites like this former railyard in New Jersey. How do they fare in such settings? A new study should reveal how woodcock are using these habitats.

Farley's research will determine the price paid by individual animals, such as woodcock, for using post-industrial habitats, compared to individuals who choose other, more-pristine sites for nesting.

Farley will capture woodcock breeding in abandoned industrial areas and equip the birds with tiny backpack radio transmitters. The transmitters will let her monitor how adult birds and broods use and move throughout their territories and habitats during the breeding season, and whether individuals return to the same sites in succeeding years.

Farley hopes that the resulting data will reveal whether woodcock nesting in post-industrial habitats are more or less likely to survive than woodcock breeding in more pristine settings, and how numbers of surviving offspring compare between the two groups. Such information will allow ecologists to better understand how habitat changes can impact wildlife, she says.

She and her colleagues have begun investigating sites throughout Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex and Morris counties, looking for woodcock populations.

She notes that almost half a million post-industrial sites exist throughout the U.S., offering a substantial number of acres of potential habitat to wildlife as nature reclaims the tracts.

"We know when woodcock succeed, so do New England cottontails, golden-winged warblers, ruffed grouse, hognose snakes, and brown thrashers, among other species," Farley says. "When woodcock populations thrive, we have hope for the larger community." is an online platform for discovering, funding, and sharing scientific research. By pledging toward research projects, backers directly fund scientists; there in no overhead involved, compared to 50 to 60 percent overhead when a research project is funded via a university grant.

Through, scientists like Farley can share field experience and findings with those who fund their research. Scientists can also present data and results directly to their backers, who watch and learn as research projects progress.

Watch a video of Farley explaining how she plans to conduct her research. And learn more at WoodcockWatchNJ.