Saturday, May 10, 2014

Golden-Winged Warblers and American Woodcocks

In cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service, the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife conducts several surveys each year to measure waterfowl population parameters. As a Wildlife Conservation Corps volunteer, I was involved in an American woodcock survey this month.

Known as the timberdoodle, bogsucker, night partridge, brush snipe, and hokumpoke, this unusual bird is known to appear in NJ. They have been spotted in NJ in places like the Tower Hill Reserve in Bethlehem Township (Hunterdon County) and Quakertown Preserve in Franklin Township (owned by Hunterdon Land Trust).

The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) is a chubby bird about 11 inches long with an interesting pattern that allows it to blend very effectively into vegetation. It is a ground-dwelling bird has a very long beak that might remind you of some shorebirds. It probes the ground to feed on worms and insects. Technically, it is the shorebird family, but it inhabits damp, brushy woods, and when displaying, moves into nearby grassy or brushy fields.

Its range includes the eastern half of the mainland United States including NJ, and areas farther north through southern Canada during the spring and summer breeding season. For the winter, it migrates to southern New Jersey and as far south as the Gulf Coast.

Woodcock are nocturnal, secretive, and generally solitary creatures and can typically only be observed during the few weeks of their mating ritual. Those of us involved this month were assigned to areas across the state. My group was in Norvin Green State Forest (Passaic County).

A warm evening at sunset is the best time to listen for woodcock. Unfortunately, temperatures below 40 degrees and rain usually eliminates the chances of hearing or seeing the mating display. I only heard the mating calls one evening on the nights I was out.

I tried to place myself at the edge of a damp area that faced out into the open. A male on the ground will start making a short vocal call: peent. He will call several times from the ground, and then fly up into the air about 50 to 100 yards.

Woodcocks are not good flyers and in this ritual it will fly down in a fast, spiraling flight with sounds like whistles, chirps, and trills being made not by the bird vocalizing, but by his wings.

Woodcocks are not endangered in NJ. The surveys are part of a larger monitoring of the species throughout North America, and also a way to map where populations do occur in the state. Some of those areas allow hunting and in NJ to hunt woodcock, rail, snipe, coots or moorhens you need an New Jersey hunting license and Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification.

Golden-winged Warbler caught for banding
Photo by Kristin Munafro via

In the nongame category of birds migrating through our state, we have the Golden-winged Warbler who is a rarity in our state. This month is also a time for warblers to visit our state,

The Golden-winged Warbler was once locally common in northern New Jersey. Now it is a species that is one of the rarest to encounter in the state.

They winter from southern Mexico south through Central America to Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. This New Jersey-listed endangered species has been reduced from approximately 100 pairs in the mid-1990s down to about 25 pairs today.

The few remaining birds do their nesting in the northwest corner of the state.

This ground-nesting warbler is found in brushy overgrowth along forested edges, shrubby fens, and shrub swamps and can be found along power-line cuts and areas where young forests are regenerating. They avoid a closed canopy setting and can be found in the NJ Highlands and Sussex County.

They have a unique "bee buzz buzz buzz" song.

Clearing of eastern forests is not something we want happening, but this species benefits from the regrowth and young forest that many abandoned or conserved farmlands or fields offer.

New Jersey Audubon has been working to create habitat at its Sparta Mountain Sanctuary and is partnering with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection on habitat creation at the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

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