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Telling on Timberdoodles

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

to learn the secrets of woodcock, some hunters turn their attention to catching and banding the birds in the spring.

They use a pointing dog - just as in hunting - but when the dog finds and points a woodcock, the hunter cautiously walks forward and scans the ground for a hen woodcock and her chicks. Ideally he captures the hen first, and bands and releases her. Then he turns his attention to the chicks, catching them and placing them in a bag. After he believes he has caught all of them, he bands them one at a time and sets them in a depression while covering them with something such as a hat. There are usually four chicks, but occasionally five or six.

After all the chicks have been banded, the hunter removes the cover from the chicks and leads his dog away. The hen will be nearby, and will soon rejoin the chicks. A steady, cautious pointing dog is needed for this kind of work - just the kind of dog (usually a setter or Brittany) that grouse and woodcock hunters cherish anyway. Band returns from hunting season will tell the netters something about the travels of these birds.

Woodcock are precocious when they hatch and begin feeding themselves within a couple of days after hatching. Researchers think that by three days the chick's bill is long enough to probe the soil for food. Chicks will freeze if disturbed, relying on their natural camouflage for protection. The hen may flush and act crippled in an attempt to lead an intruder away from her chicks. Woodcock hens have been reported to carry a chick between their legs in flight - one of the few birds in the world to do so - but there are not many eye-witness accounts of this.

Of 16,155 birds banded in Michigan from 1931 through 1992, 929 were recovered, most of them in Michigan and most taken by hunters. Three of these birds were recovered in Missouri. Male woodcock, rather than being caught and banded like hens and chicks, are caught in mist nets on their singing grounds. In one recent year in Michigan, 86 people banded 717 woodcock. They banded 678 chicks, 36 hens and 3 cocks.

Eric Kurzejeski is a research biologist who keeps tabs on grouse and woodcock for the Missouri Conservation Department. "Woodcock do breed and reside here in Missouri,"

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