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What is an American Woodcock?

Vicki Hogue-Davies
Vicki Hogue-Davies

An American woodcock is a type of shorebird found in the middle and eastern United States and southern Canada. It measures 9.8 to 12.2 inches (25 to 31 cm) long and has a wingspan of 16.5 to 18.9 inches (42 to 48 cm). Females usually are larger than males. The scientific name for the bird is Scolopax minor, and it has several colorful popular names, including timberdoodle, bog-sucker, mudsnipe and Labrador twister. The American woodcock is a game bird and one of the few shorebirds hunted for sport.

The American woodcock is classified as a shorebird, but it doesn't live at the shoreline. It lives in moist thickets and open forested areas. It does its feeding at night, hunting for earthworms in damp soil with its long bill, which has a flexible and sensitive tip specialized for the task. Approximately 60 percent of the bird's diet is earthworms, and it also eats flies, snails, beetles, seeds and more.

The American woodcock eats earthworms.
The American woodcock eats earthworms.

The bird’s colors are mottled and consist of grays, browns, pale yellows and muted orange that help it to blend in with its surroundings. It has short legs, a short tail and a compact body. An especially interesting feature of the American woodcock is its large eyes, which are set far back on its head to allow it a wide visual field. Even when its head is down during feeding, it can keep an eye out for possible predators approaching from above.

The brain of the American woodcock is one-of-a-kind among birds, with the cerebellum located below the rest of the brain and above the spine. In most other birds, the cerebellum is located at the back of the skull. There are different theories among scientists about why the bird is this way.

Courtship and breeding is distinctive with the American woodcock. The courtship display includes groups of male birds, referred to as “leks,” gathering together at dawn and dusk. The birds spiral upward into the air, reaching anywhere from 100 to 300 feet above the ground, before spiraling back down and landing, then repeating the process. The flights are punctuated by nasal "peent" sounds and chirps. American woodcocks do not form pairs, and when the eggs are laid &emdash; most nests include four &emdash; the female does all of the work of raising the chicks.

The American woodcock is designated as a species of high concern by the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan because of habitat loss and possibly overhunting in some areas. There are approximately 5 million American woodcocks living today. On a global level, the American Woodcock is not considered a species of high concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which maintains a database of threatened species.

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    • The American woodcock eats earthworms.
      By: Henrik Larsson
      The American woodcock eats earthworms.