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American Woodcock

November 15, 2023

Unlike most shorebirds, American Woodcock live in forested areas. Woodcock are easiest to spot in the spring when they conduct a showcase flight high in the sky, complete with a whirring sound and a brief, buzzy "peent" name. In our state, woodcock are a flagship species of the "Young Forest" and may be diminishing in places with less early-successional forest. Breeding codes may be recorded up until the beginning of August. Early April through mid-May is the prime time for shows. To catch the peak interval, we advise crepuscular surveys to be conducted one hour after dusk or one hour before dawn.

Related: Learn How to ID Your Favorite Birds

How to ID An American Woodcocks

There are four keys to identifying American Woodcock:

1. Size and Shape

American Woodcock is highly cryptic, displaying lovely tawny, black and grey plumage that blends completely with brown grasses and woody debris of forest floors.

  • Length: 9 to 12 inches
  • Weight: 4 to 10 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16 to 19 inches

2. Color Pattern

Males and females have similar mottled brown and black plumage that blends into the forest floor cover. Their most distinctive features are their bulging eyeballs on the sides of their skulls and their 2 to 3 inch long bills. They use this long, projecting bill to dig deep into the dirt after earthworms and other insects. Woodcocks are rather little birds, only reaching a height of eight inches and weighing six to ten ounces.

3. Behavior

The wind blowing over the birds' thin outer wing major feathers causes them to whistle clearly as they fall, in addition to making other sounds like chirping and twittering. The males perform these courtship rituals repeatedly throughout the night, depending on the lighting and weather. Even though Missouri has few woodcocks that nest, those that do start laying eggs in the second half of March. Females can frequently build a small nest on the ground adjacent to the wooing area where they mate with a male on the singing floor. Hens normally lay four buff-colored, brown-noticed eggs that fit in with the surrounding flora. Hens are able to build new nests if the original one is damaged or if young are lost while caring for the brood. The majority of hens like the young forest growth at the base of small bushes or shrubs. For 21 days, hens will incubate the eggs. After hatching, chicks leave the nest with the hen a day later.

Earthworms are the main invertebrate that Woodcocks consume (Oligochaeta). The majority of their eating occurs in areas with damp soil. Insect larvae, snails, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, snipe flies, beetles, and ants are among the additional ingredients in the diet. They hunt by probing in soft soil in thickets, where they frequently remain well-hidden from view. There is some consumption of plant foods, mostly seeds. At night, woodcocks migrate. Due to their crepuscular nature, woodcock are most active at dawn and dusk.

4. Habitat

If you happen to possess bigger tracts of forest land, think about collaborating with a professional forester to create a timber harvesting plan that might eventually restore regions all over your property. In order to provide for early phases of plant succession, or regrowth, similar to vegetation seen in forest openings, forest management approaches that stimulate periodic disturbances of mature growth are beneficial to woodcock.

To attract Woodcocks, establish bushes and shrubs alongside woodland edges and subsequent to streams and creeks in areas at least 1 acre and 50 ft large. Consider planting hawthorn, crabapple, dogwood, hazelnut, elderberry, sumac, prickly ash or plum thickets to create dense cowl for woodcock. Create and maintain forest or woodland openings for singing grounds. These areas needs to be a minimum of 2 acres and scattered across areas with mature timber.

Related: Northern Flicker: ID and Overview

Where to Find American Woodcocks

Most woodcock spend the winter in the Gulf Coast and southeastern Atlantic Coast states after migrating south in the autumn. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia are examples. Winter populations are highest in the northern half of Alabama, according to the Christmas Bird Count statistics.

As a result, habitats that offer food and cover next to the migratory route are crucial for their survival. Many avian enthusiasts enjoy watching male birds perform their nightly "sky dances" to woo females during this time of year. A sign that spring will soon arrive in Missouri is the appearance of woodcock.


Facts About American Woodcocks

Did you know these fun facts about the American Woodcock?

  • For female woodcocks to successfully raise their young and build nests, singing grounds should be close to regions of young forest. The woodcock will rest on the ground in these spots amid strewn-about patches of briars, bushes, and weeds. Woodcock will use increasingly open sites to roost as the summer season goes into the early fall. This patchwork variety of covering protects woodcock from aerial predators while not impeding their escape from ground predators.
  • Unlike other birds, woodcocks migrate slowly and move from one place to another. Even with their slow speed woodcocks are among the top 25 most frequently found dead or injured birds during migration at structures in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and Toronto. Furthermore, woodcocks hold the record for the slowest-ever flight speed for a migrating sandpiper, which is 8 kilometers / 5 miles per hour.
  • Although the number of woodcocks has constantly decreased, the decline is probably not a major problem. According to Cornell Lab, their ground-feeding also makes them susceptible to pesticide and heavy metallic deposition from aerial forest spraying. Growth and natural forest succession, which robs them of the young, open woods they need, are more to blame.
  • As they fly, the whistling sound is caused by wind changing across their wings. Numerous indigenous names, including timberdoodle, bog sucker, mud bat, mud snipe, and Labrador twister, were inspired by their peculiar appearance and behavior.
  • A male will settle on the ground in a crevice or small space at dusk and repeatedly emit a low, nasal, almost insect-like sound called a "peent." He then lifts off low and spirals up to 100-200 feet on whistling wings before spiraling back down and landing close to where he took off.
  • A lot will lead you to believe that woodcock aren't worth eating, which is simply untrue. They have a "earthy" flavor and combine well with mushrooms or more sweet local foods like apples and cranberries. They are excellent when prepared in a variety of ways, though you can certainly put bacon on them and it should taste fantastic (and like bacon). The legs are occasionally discarded, but it's important to note that this mild, soft meat is undoubtedly the tastiest component of the bird. Either they'll be used to roast a whole bird or they'll be set aside for a day of woodcock poppers or buffalo legs.
  • Due to their polygamous lifestyles, the males frequently continue to perform this show flight every evening throughout the spring and summer.

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