Changes in Courtship Season of American Woodcock Across an Urban Landscape

Highly populated areas face the synergistic effects of habitat loss and degradation leading to the potential for animals to select inferior habitat during courtship. Habitat selection tenets (e.g. Ideal Free Distribution) assume animals are well-informed regarding habitat quality before males establish breeding territory. However, for migratory animals this assumption is unlikely to be upheld. In regions of urbanization and industrial sprawl, animals are faced with identifying quality territory where habitat is limited and former cues may no longer provide useful information. Post-industrial sites (old rail yards, landfills, former industrial complexes, superfund sites) visually appear similar to early successional habitat, but these altered habitats may contain pollutants, altered hydrological regimes, delayed succession, and modified floral and fauna communities. These landscapes can exist as significant sources of available habitat within a region and may lead to a shift in habitat usage where animals equally or preferentially select post-industrial sites over non-industrial sites. To test this, during spring 2016 I monitored the courtship activity of the migratory game bird American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) to determine the extent to which they use post-industrial habitat. We conducted crepuscular courtship surveys from mid-March through early May across 30 sites in northern New Jersey that were categorized as either post-industrial or non-industrial. Work conducted during spring 2017 involved further investigation of three sites representative of woodcock courtship habitat across the degraded-urban gradient in New Jersey for crepuscular courtship displays during the spring and food availability from April through October. Collectively these results suggest that habitat quality at fine and broad scales work in concert to influence the length of courtship period. Preliminary results indicate that while woodcock do not discern differences between post-industrial and non-industrial habitat for courtship displays, the sites differ in critical resources leading to changes in the length of courtship across the region.