Photo: Fyn Kynd/Flick CC (BY 2.0)

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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the American Woodcock

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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.

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