The Eurasian woodcock is a cryptic, elusive wader adapted for a life in woodland and fields. It is the most numerous of eight species of woodcocks globally. It breeds throughout Europe as far south as northern Spain and Italy and as far west as Britain and Ireland. There are even small resident populations on the Azores and the Canary Islands.
Information on the size of breeding woodcock populations is relatively poor and the accuracy of estimates varies from country to country. By far the largest numbers, however, are known to breed in the Baltic States, Finland, Scandinavia and Russia. Indeed, the woodcock breeds across Russia between approximately 50°N and 70°N.
These northern and eastern populations are strongly migratory and must travel south and west in autumn to escape the winter freeze on their breeding sites. Owing to their diet of invertebrates and the manner in which they probe the soil to feed, woodcock are unable to tolerate long periods of permanent frost. Between December and March, the bulk of the European population is concentrated in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy and Greece, where conditions are comparatively mild. We estimate that between 1.2 and 1.5 million woodcock overwinter in Britain and Ireland.
We have studied the species for over 30 years, conducting some of the fundamental work on the species’ ecology during the late 1970s to early 1990s. Our current work is focused on understanding populations and their annual migrations.
Woodcock Watch project
The map below shows the journeys undertaken by each of the birds participating in our Woodcock Watch project. Visit www.woodcockwatch.com to view the interactive map and for more information on the project.