Photo: R. Crossley/Vireo

Priority Bird

American Woodcock

Scolopax minor

Related to the sandpipers, but strikingly different in habits. This rotund, short-legged bird hides in forest thickets by day, where it uses its long bill to probe in damp soil for earthworms. Its eyes are set far back on its head, allowing it to watch for danger even with its bill buried in the dirt. Males perform a remarkable "sky dance" on spring and summer nights, in a high, twisting flight, with chippering, twittering, bubbling sounds.
Conservation status Probably declining in eastern United States, may be increasing in parts of Canada as coniferous forests are cut and grow up to thickets. Still reasonably common overall.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Wet thickets, moist woods, brushy swamps. Favors a mix of forest and open fields, often spending day in the forest, night in the open. Mostly in deciduous or mixed woods with much young growth and moist soil, such as thickets along streams. At night may be in open pastures, abandoned farm fields, open swamp edges.
Related to the sandpipers, but strikingly different in habits. This rotund, short-legged bird hides in forest thickets by day, where it uses its long bill to probe in damp soil for earthworms. Its eyes are set far back on its head, allowing it to watch for danger even with its bill buried in the dirt. Males perform a remarkable "sky dance" on spring and summer nights, in a high, twisting flight, with chippering, twittering, bubbling sounds.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • nestling
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Feeds mostly by probing with bill in soft soil. Tip of bill is sensitive and flexible, allowing bird to detect and then grab creatures in the soil. Sometimes performs odd rocking motion while standing; possibly the vibration from this will disturb earthworms into moving; it has been suggested that the woodcock can hear sounds of creatures moving underground.


Eggs

4, sometimes 1-3; rarely 5 or more (possibly resulting from more than one female laying in same nest). Eggs pinkish-buff, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by female only, 20-22 days. Young: Downy young leave nest a few hours after hatching. Female tends young and feeds them. After a few days, young may begin probing in soil, learning to search for food. Young can make short flights at age 2 weeks, fly fairly well at 3 weeks, independent at about 5 weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest a few hours after hatching. Female tends young and feeds them. After a few days, young may begin probing in soil, learning to search for food. Young can make short flights at age 2 weeks, fly fairly well at 3 weeks, independent at about 5 weeks.

Diet

Mostly earthworms and insects. Earthworms are major prey at most times and places. Insects also important, especially insect larvae that burrow in soil, such as those of many beetles, crane flies, and others. Also eaten are millipedes, spiders, snails, and other invertebrates. Consumes some plant material, including seeds of grasses, sedges, smartweeds.


Nesting

Males display at night in spring and summer to attract females. Often several males are close together in meadow, brushy field. Male gives nasal beeping call on ground, then performs high, twisting flight display. In this "sky dance," musical twittering sounds made by certain modified wing feathers, chirping calls made vocally. Female visits area, mates with one of the males. Male takes no part in caring for eggs or young. Nest site is on ground, usually in open woods or overgrown field, in area with many dead leaves. Nest (made by female) is a scrape lined with dead leaves, other debris.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates at night. Fall migration influenced by weather, with many driven south by major cold fronts. Spring migration begins very early, some males moving north during January in warm years.

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Migration

Migrates at night. Fall migration influenced by weather, with many driven south by major cold fronts. Spring migration begins very early, some males moving north during January in warm years.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud, buzzy bzeep! similar to the call of a nighthawk and often repeated on the ground about every two seconds during courtship.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Sandpipers Sandpiper-like Birds

American Woodcock

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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