The American woodcock, also known as a timberdoodle, is a shorebird. Unlike typical shorebirds, which spend time on the shores and beaches of lakes, it spends its time in wet forests and fields. In Ohio, during March-October, the American woodcock can be found during the day in soggy forests camouflaged against the forest floor. In early spring during dawn, dusk or all night during a full moon, the male woodcock ventures out into the field where it sky dances to attract a female.
This elaborate display of the male woodcock’s dance is filled with amazing movements and sounds. It starts off on the ground with a “peents” calls then it continues a spiral flight upward. On its flight upward, at about 50 feet, his wings make a twittering sound. When the male reaches as high as 300 feet, he descends in a zig-zag, diving fashion, calling as he falls down. As he comes near the ground, the woodcock lands silently near a female if she is present; then starts “peenting” again. Several males can display in the same field at the same time competing for the females.
After mating, the females build the nest, incubate and care for the young with no help from the males. The female constructs her nest by scratching depressions into the ground then lining the nest with a few twigs, grasses or dead leaves in open woods or overgrown fields. She typically lays four buff with brown spotted colored eggs. She incubates the eggs for approximately 20-22 days. Once all the chicks have hatched in a few hours they all leave the nest. A few days after hatching the chicks are probing the ground for food. Just like the adult woodcocks, the young have a flexible tip bill that is specialized for catching earthworms, which are a major component of their diet. They also will eat insect larvae and other invertebrates. Until about five weeks when the young become completely independent, the female cares for them. She may display a broken-wing act when a predator or human gets to close to her young.
The American woodcock is one of the few shorebirds that regularly hunted for sport.
According to the National Audubon Society, “The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan lists American woodcock as a “Species of High Concern,” based largely on decreasing population trends, but also on threats on breeding grounds and threats on non-breeding grounds. It is estimated that perhaps up to 2-million American woodcock are shot annually across its range, but it is unclear if this hunting affects population trends. It is believed that a decrease in the quality and quantity of woodcock habitat, resulting from a decrease in the rate of early secondary succession, is a major factor in the decline of American woodcock across its range. In addition, the draining of swampy areas and bottomland hardwood forest has contributed to the degradation of suitable woodcock habitat.”
What can you do? Support local and national organizations like The Holden Arboretum, parks districts, Important Birds Areas and U.S. National Wildlife Refuges that provide essential habitat for American woodcock.