People fortunate enough to live near woodcock breeding grounds may see these birds perform their courtship fight in early spring each year. In spectacular aerial displays, the male spirals up to a considerable height, circles, then plummets down to earth, calling as he descends.
Woodcocks subsist chiefly on earthworms, which they extract with their long bills; the tip of the upper mandible is flexible so that they can grasp a worm while probing in the mud without opening the bill. Insect larvae are also eaten, and occasionally vegetable matter is consumed.
Distribution & Habitat
Woodcocks prefer moist woodland and thickets near open fields. They can be seen in Eastern North America from southern Canada to the Gulf states. In winter they migrate to the South.
The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) is seldom seen, for its protective coloring renders it virtually invisible. When flushed from underfoot, it zigzags off through the brush with a whistling of wings. Its voice is a loud, buzzy beep similar to the call of a nighthawk and often repeated about every 2 seconds.
The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan (USSCP) lists woodcock as a Species of High Concern and as a species known or thought to be declining (Brown et al. 2004). Woodcock are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Game Bird Below Desired Condition (USFWS 2004). They are listed on the Audubon Watchlist “red list” of those species that are in slow decline and of national conservation concern (National Audubon Society 2004).