European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 881–892 | Cite as

A stable isotope (δ 2H) approach to deriving origins of harvested woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) taken in France

  • Keith A. HobsonEmail author
  • Steven L. Van Wilgenburg
  • Yves Ferrand
  • François Gossman
  • Claudine Bastat
Original Paper


A crucial but elusive aspect of the effective conservation and management of migratory birds is the determination of which regions or habitats contribute to the recruitment of juvenile birds into the adult breeding population or, in the case of hunted species, the annual harvest. Although ring recoveries have provided important information for several game species, limitations of this approach include the bias to only marked populations and the tremendous scale of effort required to recover enough individuals. Here, we explored the use of an intrinsic marker, the stable hydrogen isotope composition of feathers (δ 2Hf) of juvenile woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), as a means of assigning birds to natal origin using a woodcock-specific δ 2Hf isoscape. We applied this approach to 987 juvenile woodcock during the winters of 2005–2006 and 2006–2007, and 1875 juvenile woodcock sampled during autumn migration of 2005 and 2006. We used a likelihood-based assignment approach to determine origins from four regions. Considering only the feather isotope data, the majority (50 %) were assigned to origins in the Baltic—Western European Russia region (including western Russia) and 44 % assigned to central European origins. Few (6 %) were considered residents in France and <1 % were assigned to northern Fennoscandia and northern European Russia. Using the amount of forest cover available within zones as a prior resulted in greater emphasis on origins in the Baltic and western European Russia (62 %) and less emphasis (29 %) on central Europe as a potential origin. We also depicted origins of birds on a continuous isoscape surface which emphasised more extant forests of central and eastern Europe and western Russia. Results were relatively similar regardless of whether we considered samples collected during migration versus those collected during the wintering period. Spatial assignment of 51 woodcock sampled in Switzerland was consistent with the Baltic and central Europe. Our results are in general agreement with ring-recovery data and emphasise the utility of an isotope approach to assignment of gamebirds to origin.


Scolopax rusticola Management Migration Stable isotope Deuterium 



We thank all ringers of the Woodcock Network ONCFS/FNC/FDC and hunters of Club national des bécassiers and Bécassiers de France for their participation in the sampling. We thank P. Aubry for his help with sampling. A. Powell, A. Hoodless and A. Gossler graciously provided the woodcock calibration algorithm. C. Gryba and L. I. Wassenaar assisted with stable isotope analyses conducted at the Environment Canada stable isotope facility in Saskatoon, Canada. This study was funded by grants to KAH from Environment Canada and by support to YF by ONCSF. The manuscript benefitted from the constructive advice of two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith A. Hobson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Steven L. Van Wilgenburg
    • 1
  • Yves Ferrand
    • 2
  • François Gossman
    • 2
  • Claudine Bastat
    • 2
  1. 1.Environment CanadaSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, Direction des Etudes et de la RechercheNantes, Cedex 3France

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