American woodcock migratory connectivity as indicated by hydrogen isotopes

Daniel S. Sullins, Warren C. Conway, David A. Haukos, Keith A. Hobson, Leonard I. Wassenaar, Christopher E. Comer, I. Kuai Hung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


To identify factors contributing to the long-term decline of American woodcock, a holistic understanding of range-wide population connectivity throughout the annual cycle is needed. We used band recovery data and isotopic composition of primary (P1) and secondary (S13) feathers to estimate population sources and connectivity among natal, early fall, and winter ranges of hunter-harvested juvenile American woodcock. We used P1 feathers from known-origin pre-fledged woodcock (n = 43) to create a hydrogen δ2Hf isoscape by regressing δ2Hf against expected growing-season precipitation (δ2Hp). Modeled δ2Hp values explained 79% of the variance in P1 δ2Hf values, indicating good model fit for estimating woodcock natal origins. However, a poor relationship (r2 = 0.23) between known-origin, S13 δ2Hf values, and expected δ2Hp values precluded assignment of early fall origins. We applied the δ2Hf isoscape to assign natal origins using P1 feathers from 494 hunter-harvested juvenile woodcock in the United States and Canada during 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 hunting seasons. Overall, 64% of all woodcock origins were assigned to the northernmost (>44°N) portion of both the Central and Eastern Management Regions. In the Eastern Region, assignments were more uniformly distributed along the Atlantic coast, whereas in the Central Region, most woodcock were assigned to origins within and north of the Great Lakes region. We compared our origin assignments to spatial coverage of the annual American woodcock Singing Ground Survey (SGS) and evaluated whether the survey effectively encompasses the entire breeding range. When we removed the inadequately surveyed Softwood shield Bird Conservation Region (BCR) from the northern portion of the SGS area, only 48% of juvenile woodcock originated in areas currently surveyed by the SGS. Of the individuals assigned to the northernmost portions of the breeding range, several were harvested in the southern extent of the wintering range. Based upon this latitudinal winter stratification, we examined whether woodcock employed a leapfrog migration strategy. Using δ2Hf values and band-recovery data, we found some support for this migration strategy hypothesis but not as a singular explanation. The large harvest derivation of individuals from the northernmost portions of the breeding range, and the difference in breeding distributions within each Management Region should be considered in future range-wide conservation and harvest management planning for American woodcock.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-526
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • American woodcock
  • Scolopax minor
  • band recovery
  • deuterium
  • dispersal
  • harvest derivation
  • migratory connectivity
  • natal origins
  • stable isotopes


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