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Habitat preferences and autumnal migration start in the Eurasian woodcock

Insights into movements of a clandestine forest bird

The Eurasian woodcock is one of the most clandestine bird species, and the ecology in the breeding grounds remains largely unknown. At the same time, the Swiss populations are declining, and taking conservation actions is likely to become necessary in the near future. In order to define the efficient measures, better knowledge about the preferred habitats and seasonal migration is needed.

Domain Research
Unit Ecological research
Topic Ecology, Migratory Birds
Habitat forest
Project start 2015
Project status ongoing
Project management Martin Grüebler
Project region Neuchâtel, Vaud


Project objectives

We aim for two main goals in this study. First, we investigate the preferred breeding habitat characteristics within forest habitats to enhance the basis for implementing habitat conservation measures, Second, we investigate the start dates to autumn migration to estimate the potential effects of autumn hunting on the Swiss breeding population.


We captured a total of over 100 woodcock individuals in the Jura mountains from 2016 to 2018 using different methods. Sixty individuals were tagged with radio transmitters and tracked for several months. Thirty individuals were tagged with ARGOS transmitters. The localizations of the transmitters allowed us to apply resource selection functions to identify habitat preferences at two spatial scales, within the landscape and within home ranges. The ARGOS transmitters were suitable for identifying departure to autumn migration.


The research project is relevant for the conservation of the woodcock and the protection of its forest habitats. Although the species has shown declining populations in recent years and is listed on the Red List of endangered bird species in Switzerland, it is still hunted. Results of the habitat selection analyses can contribute to design measures to protect the most suitable forest habitats, while results on migration dates will allow for recommendations to prevent Swiss breeding birds from hunting threats.


Woodcocks breeding in Switzerland start their autumnal migration in mid-October, and towards the end of November almost all birds have left. Woodcock in the Jura mountains prefer forests with a well-developed shrub layer and a soil pH value between 5 and 6. An additional study showed that the mass of earthworms is greatest in soils with pH around 6. The forests avoided were those fragmented by many paved roads or by open pastures, and those with a high exposure to artificial light.

Project partner(s)



Species concerned

Bird species
Eurasian Woodcock
It is a very special experience to witness the Eurasian Woodcock’s display-flight on a balmy spring or summer evening. At dusk, before the first stars appear, the silhouette of a bird with an owl-like flight is suddenly outlined against the evening sky, whereby its long, downward-pointing bill ca...
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Ecological research link

Ecological research

We investigate the diverse interactions of birds with their environment, from individual settlement behaviour to species communities.

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