This month I have had several chance encounters with one of my favorite elusive game birds, the American woodcock (Scolopax minor), a.k.a., the timberdoodle. Last fall these birds migrated to Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas over winter. In February and March, woodcocks can be found migrating back through Missouri on their way to their northern nesting grounds.
The American woodcock has been described as a bird made up of spare parts with its elongated bill and plump robust body; it seems to be made up of leftover parts from other birds. It uses its long bill to forage for earthworms, which make up the majority of its diet. When it takes flight, its wings make a chirping sound that is very distinct. Many times when you flush a woodcock you may hear it but not see it. Woodcocks are considered to be shorebirds, and there is a hunting season for them in the fall in Missouri.
Woodcocks require young moist stands of timber for them to thrive. While checking on management activities on the Sunklands Conservation Area I passed through an 8-year-old regeneration harvest and flushed two woodcocks. If this were still an overmature red oak stand it would not have provided the right habitat for this particular bird. One of my forestry professors in college would often say "little trees need love too." It’s human nature to find a mature stand of timber pleasing to the eye, but habitat needs for all species are not met by these areas. Young stands of timber that are brushy may not look very appealing to us, but there are several species of wildlife that not only prefer these areas but require them to thrive. One reason woodcock numbers may be declining is that young forest stands have been allowed to mature and no longer provide this needed habitat. The Missouri Department of Conservation foresters manage areas to create a diverse array of wildlife habitat. The diversity helps numerous wildlife species, including the timberdoodle, not just a select few. Remember, "habitat is key."
If you would like more information about Sunklands Conservation Area, contact Michael Bill, resource forester for the Sunklands Conservation Area at 573-226-3616 ext. 233 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.