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Keywords:

  • American woodcock;
  • foraging habitat;
  • no-till agriculture;
  • North Carolina;
  • Scolopax minor;
  • wintering habitat

Abstract

Since the late 1960s, American woodcock (Scolopax minor) have undergone population declines because of habitat loss. Previous research suggested ridge and furrow topography in conventionally tilled soybean fields provided critical nocturnal cover as birds foraged on earthworms. However, the use of no-till technology has increased and many fields now lack ridge and furrow topography. We assessed woodcock winter nocturnal foraging habitat use given recent changes in agricultural technology, and investigated how field treatment, earthworm abundance, and environmental variables affect the selection of nocturnal foraging sites. We counted woodcock along transects in 5 field treatments twice in each of 67 fields during December–March 2008–2009 and 72 fields during December–March 2009–2010. During both seasons, we collected earthworm and soil samples from a subset of fields of each field treatment. Woodcock densities were at least twice as high in no-till soybean fields planted after corn and in undisked corn fields with mowed stalks than in other field treatments. No-till soybean planted after corn and undisked corn fields contained ridge and furrow topography, whereas other crops did not, and earthworms were at least 1.5 times more abundant in no-till soybean fields than other field treatments. Ridges and furrows in no-till soybean fields planted after corn and undisked corn fields may provide wintering woodcock with thermal protection and concealment from predators. No-till soybean fields planted after corn offered the additional benefit of relatively high food availability. The presence of ridge and furrow topography can be used to predict woodcock field use on the wintering grounds in agricultural areas. Farmers can provide nocturnal winter foraging sites for woodcock by delaying field disking and leaving ridge and furrow topography in crop fields. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.