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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

American Woodcock

Scolopax minor ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: SCOLOPACIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Superbly camouflaged against the leaf litter, the brown-mottled American Woodcock walks slowly along the forest floor, probing the soil with its long bill in search of earthworms. Unlike its coastal relatives, this plump little shorebird lives in young forests and shrubby old fields across eastern North America. Its cryptic plumage and low-profile behavior make it hard to find except in the springtime at dawn or dusk, when the males show off for females by giving loud, nasal peent calls and performing dazzling aerial displays.

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Keys to identification Help

Shorebirdlike
Shorebirdlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    American Woodcocks are plump, short-legged shorebirds with very long, straight bills. Their large heads, short necks, and short tails give them a bulbous look on the ground and in flight. The wings are broad and rounded compared to most other shorebirds.

  • Color Pattern

    They are well camouflaged in light brown, black, buff, and gray-brown tones. The face is buffy, the crown blackish. They are light gray across the neck and back, with dark-and-light patterned shoulders and brown wings. The underparts are buffy to almost orange.

  • Behavior

    American Woodcock spend most of their time hidden in fields and on the forest floor, where they probe for earthworms. On spring nights, males perform very conspicuous displays, giving a buzzy peent call, then launching into the air. Their erratic display flight includes a distinctive, twittering flight sound and ends with a steep dive back to the ground.

  • Habitat

    Look for American Woodcock in forests, forest edges, old fields, and wet meadows of eastern North America.

Range Map Help

American Woodcock Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    American Woodcock

    Adult
    • Plump, round-bodied shorebird
    • Very long, pointed bill
    • Small, rounded head with large black eyes
    • Intricate camouflage pattern above
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New York, December 2010
  • Adult

    American Woodcock

    Adult
    • Distinctively plump shorebird
    • Small, rounded head with large black eye
    • Very long, pointed bill
    • Buffy below with intricate pattern above
    • © Gary M, Horicon, Wisconsin, April 2011
  • Adult

    American Woodcock

    Adult
    • Distinctive plump and compact body
    • Long, pointed bill
    • Large black eyes
    • Solid buffy below
    • © Laura Meyers, Jamaica Bay NWR, New York, June 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Wilson's Snipe

    Adult
    • Similar in shape to American Woodcock
    • Longer legs
    • Stripes on crown and back
    • Dark barring on breast and flanks with white, unmarked belly
    • © Wilson's Snipe, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, July 2012
  • Adult

    Killdeer

    Adult
    • More slender and elongated than American Woodock
    • Much shorter, stubbier bill
    • Long tail
    • Two bold black bands on otherwise white breast
    • © ashockenberry, Ontario, Canada

Similar Species

American Woodcock are shorebirds that live in and around deciduous forests rather than along bodies of water. Wilson's Snipe occur in wet fields. They are more active during the day and are not typically found in forests. They have barring across the breast and a whitish belly, unlike the woodcock’s unstreaked, buffy-orange underparts. Killdeer are also common in uplands, but they have a very different shape from woodcock, with a short bill, slender body, upright posture, and longer legs. They have clean white underparts with two strong black bands across the breast.