American Woodcock

American Woodcock

Timberdoodle, bogsucker, hokumpoke, Labrador twister

Scolopax minor
Population size
5 mln
Life Span
8 yrs
45 km/h
140-230 g
25-30 cm
42-48 cm

The American woodcock is a small chunky shorebird found primarily in the eastern half of North America. Woodcocks spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where the birds' brown, black, and gray plumage provides excellent camouflage. Because of the male woodcock's unique, beautiful courtship flights, these birds are welcomed as harbingers of spring in northern areas.


American woodcocks breed from Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick) west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to northern Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky, northern Tennessee, northern Illinois, Missouri, and eastern Kansas. A limited number of birds breed as far south as Florida and Texas. Most woodcocks spend the winter in the Gulf Coast and southeastern Atlantic Coast states. Some may remain as far north as southern Maryland, eastern Virginia, and southern New Jersey. These birds inhabit forested and mixed forest-agricultural-urban areas. They live in wet thickets, moist woods, and brushy swamps. Ideal habitats feature early successional habitat and abandoned farmland mixed with forest.

American Woodcock habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

American woodcocks are generally solitary outside of the breeding season; they prefer to spend time singly but may sometimes gather in small groups. They are crepuscular birds, being most active at dawn and dusk. American woodcocks do most of their feeding in places where the soil is moist. They forage by probing in soft soil in thickets, where they usually remain well-hidden from sight. American woodcocks migrate at night. They fly at low altitudes, individually or in small, loose flocks. Most birds start to migrate in October, with the major push from mid-October to early November. Most woodcocks arrive on their wintering range by mid-December. The birds head north again in February and most usually return to the northern breeding range by mid-March to mid-April.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

American woodcocks are carnivores (insectivores) and eat mainly invertebrates, particularly earthworms. Other items in their diet include insect larvae, snails, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, snipe flies, beetles, and ants. They may also eat a small amount of plant food, mainly seeds.

Mating Habits

20-22 days
5 weeks
4 eggs

American woodcocks are polygynous meaning that males may mate with several females. In spring, males occupy individual singing grounds, openings near brushy cover from which they call and perform display flights at dawn and dusk, and if the light levels are high enough on moonlit nights. The male's ground call is a short, buzzy 'peent'. After sounding a series of ground calls, the male takes off and flies from 50 to 100 yards into the air. He descends, zigzagging, and banking while singing a liquid, chirping song. This high spiraling flight produces a melodious twittering sound as air rushes through the male's outer primary wing feathers. Females (hens) are attracted to the males' displays. A hen will fly in and land on the ground near a singing male. The male courts the female by walking stiff-legged and with his wings stretched vertically, and by bobbing and bowing. Male woodcocks play no role in selecting a nest site, incubating eggs, or rearing young. The hen makes a shallow, rudimentary nest on the ground in the leaf and twig litter, in brushy or young-forest cover usually within 150 yards (140 m) of a singing ground. Most hens lay 4 eggs, sometimes 1 to 3. Incubation takes 20 to 22 days. The down-covered chicks are precocial and leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. The female broods her young and feeds them. The chicks begin probing for worms on their own a few days after hatching. They develop quickly and can make short flights after 2 weeks, can fly fairly well at 3 weeks, and are independent after about 5 weeks. Young woodcocks reach reproductive maturity when they are one year old.


Population threats

American woodcocks are not considered globally threatened and as long as some sheltered woodland remains for breeding, these birds can thrive even in regions that are mainly used for agriculture. However, the population of the American woodcock has fallen by an average of slightly more than 1% annually since the 1960s. Most authorities attribute this decline to a loss of habitat caused by forest maturation and urban development. The American woodcock is also a popular game bird, with about 540,000 killed annually by some 133,000 hunters in the U.S.

Population number

According to Wikipedia resource, the number of the American woodcock total population size is 5 million individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The American woodcock is the only species of woodcock that lives in North America.
  • The American woodcock has many folk names such as timberdoodle, bogsucker, night partridge, brush snipe, hokumpoke, and becasse.
  • Woodcocks have large eyes located high in the head, and their visual field is probably the largest of any bird, 360° in the horizontal plane, and 180° in the vertical plane.
  • Woodcocks use their long prehensile bill to probe in the soil for food. A unique bone-and-muscle arrangement lets the bird open and close the tip of its upper bill, or mandible, while it is sunk in the ground. Both the underside of the upper mandible and the long tongue are rough-surfaced for grasping slippery prey.
  • In their primary northern breeding range, American woodcocks may be the earliest ground-nesting birds to breed.
  • Male American woodcocks are so fond of their courtship displays that they may continue with their courtship flights for as many as four months running; they may even sometimes continue even after females have already hatched their broods and left the nest.
  • When threatened, American woodcock chicks usually take cover and remain motionless, hoping to escape detection by relying on their cryptic coloration. Some observers suggest that frightened young may cling to the body of their mother, who will then take wing and carry the young to safety.


1. American Woodcock on Wikipedia -
2. American Woodcock on The IUCN Red List site -

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