Getting out of Michigan in early April during a late winter weather blast is always a fun time. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to not only get out of town right before a week of forecasted “wintry mix” but also to spend time with biologists from around the country at the Woodcock Wingbee being held this year in Mobile, Alabama. The Wingbee is an annual event and culmination of the Wing-collection Survey. Here is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service description of the Survey and Wingbee:
The primary objective of the Wing-collection Survey is to provide data on the reproductive success of woodcock. The survey is administered as a cooperative effort between woodcock hunters, the FWS, and state wildlife agencies. Wing-collection Survey participants were provided with prepaid mailing envelopes and asked to submit one wing from each woodcock they bagged. Hunters were asked to record the date of the hunt as well as the state and county where the bird was shot. Hunters were not asked to submit envelopes for unsuccessful hunts. The age and gender of birds were determined by examining plumage characteristics during the annual woodcock wingbee conducted by state, federal, and private biologists. The ratio of immature birds per adult female in the harvest provides an index to recruitment of young into the population. The… recruitment index for each state with greater-than-or-equal-to 125 submitted wings was calculated as the number of immatures per adult female.
Woodcock hunters from around the country participate with representation from nearly the entire woodcock range. Wings arrive in varying conditions. Some are perfectly laid out and were likely pinned to cardboard and dried before sending in. These folks get a gold star. Others, clearly those sent in by GSP owners, are little more than nuggets of dried blood and feathers. Most wings can be identified after a few seconds of careful examination. Sometimes a ruler needs to be brought out or even a dissection scope. There are a number of seasoned pros who have attended this event for 10+ years and are very good at helping with ID and questionable wings.
The first order of business is for the Wingbee participants to pass an exam to make sure their ID skills are polished. Once passed, you pick out a seat, grab a box of envelopes and get to work. Many familiar names are on the envelopes: RGS committee members, various state agency employees, woodcock banders, old friends and new friends. The first folder I picked up was from a guy who bought a setter from my Great Uncle and is one of the rare breed of woodcock hunters from Indiana. Later the next day, I picked out one from a guy who bought a pup from me the previous year and likely shot it over that dog. Patterns develop and the real woodcock gurus start to show up with their numerous envelopes with three wings in each indicating a limit for the day they hunted.
This year the biologists at the Wingbee went through 11,292 woodcock wings. This is the numeric breakdown by cohort:
Adult Female = 4,028
Immature Female= 2,348
Adult Male = 2,300
Immature Male = 2,507
Raw age ratio (immatures/adult female) = 1.21
This age ratio has not yet been broken down by region but is likely going to be on the very low part for both the Eastern and Central woodcock Management Regions. Below is a long term ratio for both regions:
From: Cooper, T.R., and R.D. Rau. 2015. American woodcock population status, 2015. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, Maryland. 16 pp.
The event is not only a useful wildlife management tool but also a time for presentations on current woodcock research as well as discussions on potential collaboration, new projects, the state of woodcock in the United States, and anything and everything woodcock related. I am grateful for being able to attend and spend time with the other biologists. It would be hard to find anyone more dedicated to young forest wildlife than the folks that attend this event.