Woodcock Survey

A 10 yearly survey in 2023 and ongoing annually

The nocturnal habits and cryptic nature of this species makes it difficult to monitor the breeding population using traditional survey methods, such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). However, a special survey method for Woodcock has been devised, which uses the counts of the territorial roding flights, undertaken by males at dusk and dawn, to estimate the number of individual males present.

Woodcock is the only species of wading bird in Britain and Ireland that is adapted to breed in woodland, both broad-leaved and coniferous. Its plumage is superbly camouflaged to blend in with dead leaf litter and ground vegetation, where it may roost or make its nest; remaining motionless unless approached at very close quarters.

Woodcock, by George Higginbotham / BTO

If you are not very experienced, and want to start off with a straightforward survey, then the Woodcock survey might be the one for you. You need to be able to identify Woodcock by sight and sound but here is some help with identification.

You do not need to belong to the BTO in order to participate in this survey.

The Time of Year for the survey

1st May to 30th June.

What the survey involves

Within each site a single fixed count point is selected, from which all observations are conducted. The count period is 75 minutes. Counts commence 15 minutes before sunset and finish 60 minutes after sunset, giving a total survey duration of 75 minutes. All observations of Woodcock (in flight), both by sight and sound, are recorded to the nearest minute and logged. Some basic information on Habitat and Deer presence is also collected.

When do you do it?

  • April: one daytime recce to establish the best place to locate the count point.
  • May to June: three visits to count point at dusk, at least one week apart, between 1st May and 30th June. NOTE – if no woodcock are recorded on both of the first two dusk visits, there is no need to make the third visit.

More information on why this survey is being run

In 2013 the Woodcock survey estimated a population of 55,241 males, representing a decline of 29% since the 2003 survey which estimated a breeding population of 78,000 males in Britain. Due to this substantial decline the BTO and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) agreed to continue annual breeding season counts. These counts are crucial for monitoring future changes to the breeding population.

In Surrey the 2007-2012 Atlas also showed a reduction in breeding. Here are the results.

What skills are required?

Anyone can take part, even beginners to birdwatching. Unlike many bird surveys, to carry out this survey, you do not have to know bird songs or calls, you just need the ability to identify Woodcock. However you are also asked to give information about the dominant tree species and ground cover. The Habitat Recording Form for the survey provides links for help with tree and plant identification.

You need access to the internet as the results are entered online.

Where are the survey sites in Surrey?

There are 87 sites in Surrey, randomly selected from within the known breeding range, chosen for this survey. See this list of Woodcock sites in Surrey to see which sites are allocated and which are still vacant (at the bottom of the screen you can select Woodcock 2023 to see this year’s sites) . Please help with one of these sites?

How do I get involved?

If you are interested in helping with the survey or would like more information please contact the Regional Organiser (RO) for this survey. The RO is Penny Williams email penny@btosurrey.co.uk.