A thousand volunteers are being sought to count the shy woodcock for a national survey. Mystery tends to surround woodcock numbers in the UK because the alluring little game bird is so secretive, flitting across forest clearings in twilight, its plumage well camouflaged and the large, soulful eyes on the side of its head alert to danger from every angle.

In 2002, the woodcock was amberlisted in ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’ as it was believed to have declined dramatically, but a GWCT and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) survey in 2003 revealed about 78,000 male birds in Britain.

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Ten years later, the two organisations are to carry out a repeat survey, in May and June, across 1,500 woodland sites, 805 of which were surveyed in 2003. GWCT ecologist Andrew Hoodless, a world authority on woodcock, says: ‘This time we need to identify why Wales and the South-West support so few breeding woodcock and why areas such as Kent and Hertfordshire appear to hold rather low densities despite having relatively large areas of woodland.’

Volunteers will need to stand in woodland at dusk and count the ‘roding’ (courting) males as they zoom past making their distinctive calls-three to five low croaks followed by a shrill whistle-to attract females. ‘Woodcock have very specific habitat requirements in the breeding season and the survey will enable us to investigate how changes in woodland habitat and general land use have affected their numbers,’ adds Dr Hoodless.

To participate, contact the BTO b(01842 750050; www.bto.org.uk/ bwoodcock-survey) or the GWCT (01425 651000; www.gwct.org.uk).

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