KINGSTON, R.I. — February 20, 2019 —While hardly the most attractive of avian species, the American Woodcock (aka, the Timberdoodle), a rather plain and proportionally unbalanced bird, may be the key to helping URI scientists better understand the decline of several bird and mammal species in Rhode Island.
Researchers in the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Natural Resources Science and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, led by URI doctoral student Erin Harrington, have launched Project Timberdoodle. The project requires the help of volunteers, needed to conduct surveys throughout Rhode Island this spring. These surveys should help researchers learn more about the young forest habitats Timberdoodles and other species rely upon. The Timberdoodle in particular has seen a decline in its numbers for more than four decades.
Tracking the mating rituals of the American Woodcock (coined the Funky Timberdoodle by URI researchers) may be key to understanding the decline of certain bird and mammal populations in Rhode Island. This fun video shows why URI researchers call them funky.
Research indicates that the decline is likely linked to loss of hospitable habitat, due to land development and aging forests. Timberdoodles and certain songbirds and mammals require young forest—what you get after a fire or clear cutting of an area.
“Project Timberdoodle, specifically, is about figuring out the types of young forests they prefer and likely need to survive. And then, hopefully, we can use that data to come up with a better-informed forest management plan for Rhode Island,” Harrington said.
What’s involved in volunteering?
Individuals will attend a two-hour training session and would then be asked to commit to four dates between April 20 and May 10. On these dates volunteers would set off to survey a designated driving route for 38 minutes, just after sunset, stopping at regular intervals to listen and observe the birds for two minutes at a time. Depending on survey routes selected, additional driving time may be involved. Project Timberdoodle is hoping to enlist 100 volunteers to conduct surveys across the entire state.
“If you like birds, you’re interested in scientific research, and you’re comfortable driving around at night, please join Team Timberdoodle,” said Harrington. “We need volunteers to help us conduct surveys if we want to get accurate estimates for Rhode Island birds, so your help is vital.”
Interested volunteers can sign up at bit.ly/Timberdoodle. Orientations with scientists will take place on Wednesday, April 10, or Thursday, April 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Weaver Auditorium located in the Coastal Institute building, 1 Greenhouse Road, on URI’s Kingston Campus.
Volunteers will learn more about the decline of the woodcock population, how to look and listen for a woodcock, and how to become involved. They will also learn about the species’ “sky dance.”
“The male mating call is quite distinctive, and the aerial sky dance that it does to attract a female is distinctive as well,” Harrington said. “So even someone who doesn’t study birds for a living can pinpoint those and pretty definitively say, ‘Yep, that was a Timberdoodle’.”
A video of the rather animated Timberdoodle sky dance can we viewed on the URI website at uri.edu/features/timberdoodle.