One of the American Woodcock’s more colorful folk names is “timberdoodle,” probably for the bird’s forest-edge haunts, erratic, zigzag flight, and twittering call notes. These plump little birds are technically shorebirds, though they’re found far from any beach. Like the Spruce Grouse, they are beautifully camouflaged to match the forest floor, in varying tones and patterns of brown, black, buff, and gray.
American Woodcocks share their second-growth habitat with the Golden-winged Warbler and benefit from conservation measures designed for that bird. Rarely seen, the woodcock spends most of its time hidden in fields and forests, where it probes for earthworms with a flexible-tipped bill that can reach worms more than two inches underground. Its large eyes are positioned high and near the back of the skull, an adaptation that enables the bird to keep watch for danger while probing for food.
Since American Woodcocks are nocturnal migrants, they are a frequent victim of collisions with communications towers, glass windows, and other man-made structures. (ABC BirdTape can help prevent this!)
On late winter and early spring evenings, male woodcocks perform conspicuous displays, dubbed “sky dances” by naturalist Aldo Leopold. A male begins by giving a buzzy, nasal peent call, turning in a tight circle while calling to broadcast to all nearby females. Then he suddenly launches into the air, circling higher and higher until almost invisible, wings making a distinctive chittering sound all the while. At the apex of his display flight (200–350 feet), the male switches to a series of high-pitched chirps, then tumbles back to earth in a steep dive, where he begins his display anew.
Long-term woodcock declines are apparently tied to natural forest succession and habitat loss due to development. Because they forage on the forest floor, woodcocks can accumulate pesticides in their bodies; their heavy diet of earthworms, which makes up more than half its diet, makes them vulnerable to poisoning by lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals.
ABC is working to reduce threats like these for the woodcock and other birds.