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Woodcock Wonderment

Feb 29, 2016

Usually, the one way to find a woodcock is to follow close behind a dog with a good nose. But in March, woodcocks emerge from hiding and do a dramatic sky dance that announces the end of winter.

The woodcock is an odd, quail-sized bird with a long skinny bill and shoe button eyes set high on the sides of its head. It lives in thickets, but you’ll almost never see one up close. That’s because woodcocks wear superb camouflage and sit so still that you can practically step on them before they’ll fly.

On early spring evenings, though, the male woodcock reveals himself. At dusk, he finds a spot in an open field and begins the woodcock courtship ritual. First, he calls out a nasal “peent.” Then, he flies with twittering wings in a giant upward spiral, climbing several hundred feet. Finally, he drops–singing, back to earth–and begins the series again.

To spot a woodcock, listen for its evening call. Then, when the bird takes off, move quickly and silently to the place he left. Wait for his return and catch his show in your flashlight beam.

It’s time to welcome spring, and the woodcock assures us that it’s almost here.

Woodcocks: The Sound of Spring

  • Woodcocks have an extremely long bill; round, plump body; short tail and legs; and large black eye located high on the head. Their back is dark, mottled with cinnamon and gray, and the underparts are buffy.
  • Although they are shorebirds by lineage, American woodcocks live in open forests, young woodlands near water, moist pastures and forested floodplains.
  • American woodcocks eat earthworms and numerous ground-dwelling insects. As ground-nesters, woodcocks and particularly their nests and young provide food for numerous predator species.
  • Woodcock nests are shallow depressions on the ground in open woods. There are 1 to12 eggs per clutch. The young are downy and able to run around soon after hatching but require feeding by the mother for the first week.

Learn more about the woodcock in the MDC’s Field Guide.

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