By TODD McLEISH/ecoRI News contributor
One of the region’s most unusual birds is the subject of a research project by University of Rhode Island doctoral student Erin Harrington, and she’s seeking at least 80 volunteers to become citizen scientists to contribute to her work. All it takes is a commitment of 38 minutes at dusk on four dates between April 20 and May 10, plus attendance at a two-hour training session.
The subject of Harrington’s study is the American woodcock, which she calls “a funny-looking bird with short, stubby legs and a variety of silly nicknames that makes arguably the silliest sounding mating call known to mankind.”
She’s not kidding.
“They’re an ideal bird for citizen scientists to work with because they’re unique and goofy looking, but their goofiness is endearing in a way that makes them distinctive and easy to identify,” Harrington said.
Sometimes called the timberdoodle, woodcocks are chunky, brownish birds with large eyes, short tails, and long beaks that they probe into the ground in search of earthworms to eat. They are found throughout the eastern United States, but their populations have been declining throughout their range. Little is known about their habits and habitat preferences in Rhode Island.
“We want to figure out where woodcocks are showing up in Rhode Island and where they aren’t,” Harrington said. “Where they’re showing up and where they aren’t are equally important because that tells us a little about what kind of habitat they prefer. And in areas where they are showing up, we’re also interested in how many are there. Areas of high numbers likely indicate a preferred habitat area.”