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Timberdoodle Hatch

Apr 17, 2009

WoodcookLast Saturday my dog, Lizzy, and I were multi-tasking. We went to a Missouri River bottom conservation area to get exercise, scout for turkeys, look for early morel mushrooms and look for shed deer antlers. Our accomplishment was that we did get plenty of exercise. Lizzy is a bird dog, and she went on point in a band of cottonwoods near the river levee. As I approached, a woodcock flushed and began doing the crippled bird routine. It worked great on Lizzy as she followed it away from the site, eventually flushing it several more times.

I saw the spot where it had initially flushed and peered at the area to see if I could spot any eggs. Eventually my eyes focused on a young woodcock that was motionless on the leaf litter. As I picked it up and examined it, three of its siblings fluttered off from a few feet away. They were well feathered and could fly several feet at a time. The one that I examined had some crumbs of dirt on its beak from probing the moist soil for worms or insects. I was surprised to find young birds so well developed before mid-April; but American woodcock, also called timberdoodles, are among the earliest species to migrate back north. They return to Missouri in February; a co-worker of mine found one incubating eggs on its nest this year in mid-March.

Timberdoodles spend the winter in lowland areas of the Gulf Coast States. According to the Woodcock Management Plan, overall numbers of woodcock have been declining since the 1960s. The decline is thought to be the result of loss of young forest habitats. Mature forests do not provide the brushy areas that are ideal for the species. Management is aimed at creating openings in mature forests to provide the brushy habitat needed for nesting and feeding. I hope that the four young birds that I saw will be able to escape predators for the rest of this spring and summer and make the flight south this fall.

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