Living Bird Magazine
American WoodcockScolopax minor
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
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.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Woodcocks are easiest to find at dusk in the springtime, when the male performs a marvelous display flight, or “sky dance.” It can be hard at first to locate the bird in dim light, so listen for the distinctive, buzzy peent call given at fairly short intervals. He intersperses this call, given from the ground, with his spiraling display flights. In the air the bird gives musical chirps and makes a twittering sound as air passes through his wingtips. Displays continue well into the night, so if you hear this noise be patient, track it to its source, and see if you can catch sight of the male as he plummets back to earth to resume his peent calls.
- Chocha del Este (Spanish)
- Bécasse d'Amérique (French)
- Cool Facts
- The male woodcock’s evening display flights are one of the magical natural sights of springtime in the East. He gives buzzy peent calls from a display area on the ground, then flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. At a height of 200–350 feet the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts to descend. He zigzags down, chirping as he goes, then lands silently (near a female, if she is present). Once on the ground, he resumes peenting and the display starts over again.
- Wouldn’t it be useful to have eyes in the back of your head? American Woodcocks come close—their large eyes are positioned high and near the back of their skull. This arrangement lets them keep watch for danger in the sky while they have their heads down probing in the soil for food.
- The conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote that the woodcock’s mesmerizing sky dances were “a refutation of the theory that the utility of a game bird is to serve as a target, or to pose gracefully on a slice of toast.” His writing helped spur the mid-twentieth century conservation movement.
- Some males display at several singing grounds and mate with multiple females. The female often visits four or more singing grounds before nesting, and she may keep up these visits even while she cares for her young. The male gives no parental care, and continues to display long after most females have laid eggs.
- Young woodcocks leave the nest a few hours after hatching, but for their first week they depend on their mother for food. They start to probe in dirt at three or four days after hatching.
- The woodcock is also known as the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker.
- The oldest American Woodcock on record was 11 years, 4 months old.
- The American Woodcock probes the soil with its bill to search for earthworms, using its flexible bill tip to capture prey. The bird walks slowly and sometimes rocks its body back and forth, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, increasing their detectability.