At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Saltwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Texas
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
11" (28 cm). Odd and distinctive shape: Round-bodied, short-necked, short-legged, long-billed. Note orange-buff belly, crosswise black bars on crown, camouflaged pattern on back.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, Tan
Rounded, Short, Tapered
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.
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Trill
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the American Woodcock. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the American Woodcock
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.