Woodcock is the name of several species of birds that live in moist
woods and sheltered marshes in many parts of the world. Woodcocks are mostly tan and
brown, the colors of wood and dead leaves. These colors camouflage the bird in its
surroundings and help protect it from enemies.
The American woodcock nests in the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada.
It measures about 11 inches (28 centimeters) long and has a large body for its length. It
has short legs and a long bill that it uses to search for earthworms in the mud. The
American woodcock winters from Missouri to New Jersey and south to the Gulf Coast. It
arrives north again in February or early March. The bird builds its nest of dry leaves on
Male woodcocks perform remarkable displays of courtship for the females on spring mornings
or evenings. The male circles high in the air, then dives earthward, making whistling
sounds with its feathers. It pulls out of the dive just before crashing, lands in a
clearing, and gives a mating call. Many bird watchers visit the display sites of woodcocks
to observe this ritual.
Scientific classification. Woodcocks belong to the family Scolopacidae. The scientific
name for the American woodcock is Scolopax minor.
Contributor: Peter G. Connors, Ph.D., Senior Museum Scientist, Bodega Marine
Laboratory, Univ. of California, Davis.