Thursday, 30 October 2014

Residents and Migrants

Visitors to the Woodcock Watch website will notice that there are three active tags already in the UK; two in Western Scotland and one in County Durham. These tagged woodcock never left the UK last spring.  The British woodcock population comprises of both resident and migratory birds. In a typical winter we would predict around 10% of woodcock in the UK are home-bred, whilst the other 90% are visitors from Northern Europe and Russia. Physically, there is nothing that clearly distinguishes a migrant from a resident and there is always the chance that we will tag resident birds by mistake. In 2014, spring arrived early, and many of the migrant birds began to leave earlier than expected, which increased the likelihood of us tagging a resident.

Whilst not our primary objective, we have been happy to receive data from the three residents which have provided an interesting contrast to their migratory counterparts. Jack and Charlie were both tagged on Islay in March. Jack turned out to be a migrant and moved to Western Russia; he has covered a distance of 2875 km in the seven months since we caught him. Charlie, on the other hand, stayed to spend the summer on Islay and has covered a mere 240 km by comparison.

Charlie has covered just 240km since March
As well as studying woodcock migration, the GWCT also conducts research into the small percentage of birds that stay in Britain all year round. With the BTO, we have co-ordinated national surveys of breeding woodcock to gauge the size of the British population and how it is changing. Whilst numbers of woodcock across Europe as a whole appear to remain healthy, the evidence indicates that our resident population is undergoing declines across much of the country.

The advice to shooters who wish to minimise their impact on our resident birds, is to refrain from shooting woodcock at least until the majority of the migrants have arrived. The influxes of European birds then far outnumber our residents, and reduce the chances of native birds being shot.

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