Using Infrared Technology to Locate and Monitor American Woodcock Nests


  • Thomas J. Keller Pennsylvania Game Commission
  • Samara Trusso Pennsylvania Game Commission
  • Ian D. Gregg Pennsylvania Game Commission
  • Lisa Williams Pennsylvania Game Commission



Methods for locating American woodcock (Scolopax minor; hereafter woodcock) whether individuals, nests, or broods, have remained largely unchanged for more than 75 years, but use of current technology has the potential to increase efficiency and decrease observer-caused disturbance. Primary methods of searching for and locating woodcock have included the use of pointing dogs, and telemetry after capture using mist nets, nightlighting, or live traps. We tested the feasibility of using Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) cameras to locate individual woodcock, nests, and broods in the spring (24 March – 11 May) of 2015 as part of a research project to determine the timing of nest initiation along 3 American Woodcock Singing-Ground Survey (SGS) routes in southwestern Pennsylvania. By using FLIR to search potential woodcock nesting cover adjacent to SGS routes, we located a total of 28 nests and 4 broods, 2 of which were not linked to a previously known nest. We also located 180 individual woodcock. Searching took place over a total of 22 days, not all contiguous, for a total of 58.05 hours. Nest-searching efficiency using FLIR was 0.48 nests/hour compared to published reports of efficiency using historical search methods ranging from 0.03–0.4 nests/hour. The FLIR method is not only more efficient, but provides a non-intrusive approach to locating and monitoring nesting woodcock. In addition to nesting ecology, FLIR may have additional applications in woodcock research, including improving efficiency of capture methods and monitoring nocturnal behavior and habitat use. The technology also proved to be excellent at locating other birds and mammals, and therefore has many possible uses in wildlife research.