A quantitative analysis of habitat preferences of Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola, in the breeding season.

Author Hirons, G.J.M. & Johnson, T.H.
Citation Hirons, G.J.M. & Johnson, T.H. (1987). A quantitative analysis of habitat preferences of Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola, in the breeding season. Ibis, 129: 371-381.


In Britain, prior to breeding, Woodcock Scolopax rusticola switch from feeding on pastures by night to feeding in woodland by day. Their major food is earthworms (Lumbricidae). In April and May 1985, vegetation structure and composition and soil parameters including earthworm numbers (30 habitat variables) were recorded for quadrats containing 50 feeding locations of six radio-tagged birds, seven nests and 50 random locations in Whitwell Wood, northeast Derbyshire.

Significantly different mean values between feeding and random sites were found for 11 habitat variables. Feeding sites were in younger stands, with a higher percentage ground cover of dog's mercury Mercurialis perennis and consistently high values for pH. Earthworm biomass was on average 82% greater than in random plots. Areas of beech Fagus sylvaticus were avoided. A discriminant function based on six habitat variables correctly classified 85-5% of the feeding and random sites; 70% of the feeding locations were correctly classified by a jack-knife procedure. The important factors determining where feeding occurs are probably safety from avian predators and high availability of earthworms.

Discriminant analysis of the habitats used for feeding by solitary birds, broods and for nesting produced significant functions which correctly classified 84% of sites. Nests were in areas with a high percentage cover of brambles Rubus spp. and more open ground vegetation. Broods and solitary birds used similar areas characterized by denser ground vegetation than nest sites.

The results of this study indicate that both habitat structure and food availability influence the distribution of Woodcock in the breeding season.

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