Migration Timing, Routes, and Connectivity of Eurasian Woodcock Wintering in Britain and Ireland


  • Andrew N. Hoodless Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
  • Christopher J. Heward Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust




Migration represents a critical time in the annual cycle of Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), with potential consequences for individual fitness and survival. In October–December, Eurasian woodcock migrate from breeding grounds in northern Eurasia over thousands of kilometres to western Europe, returning in March–May. The species is widely hunted in Europe, with 2.3–3.5 million individuals shot per year; hence, an understanding of the timing of migration and routes taken is an essential part of developing sustainable flyway management. Our aims were to determine the timing and migration routes of Eurasian woodcock wintering in Britain and Ireland, and to assess the degree of connectivity between breeding and wintering sites. We present data from 52 Eurasian woodcock fitted with satellite tags in late winter 2012–2016, which indicate that the timing of spring departure varied annually and was positively correlated with temperature, with a mean departure date of 26 March (± 1.4 days SE). Spring migration distances averaged 2,851 ± 165 km (SE), with individuals typically making 5 stopovers. The majority of our sample of tagged Eurasian woodcock migrated to breeding sites in northwestern Russia (54%), with smaller proportions breeding in Denmark, Scandinavia, and Finland (29%); Poland, Latvia, and Belarus (9.5%); and central Russia (7.5%). The accumulated migration routes of tagged individuals suggest a main flyway for Eurasian woodcock wintering in Britain and Ireland through Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, and then dividing to pass through the countries immediately north and south of the Baltic Sea. We found a weak positive relationship between breeding site longitude and wintering site latitude, suggesting broadly parallel migration routes from distinct breeding areas but some mixing of individuals from different breeding areas at the same wintering site.