Spotting the American Woodcock

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American Woodcock
American Woodcock by Fyn Kynd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/79452129@N02/25551748481)], via Flickr.

What are some ways you can tell fall is upon us? If you’re like most people you use typical methods like the days are getting shorter, it’s cooler outside and the calendar says so.

But if you’re anything like me, you use very unorthodox ways by today’s standards.

As I was driving home late one night last week, I passed through a low lying area next to some wetlands, as I rounded the curve I noticed around a dozen American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) taking flight out of the middle of the road.

I looked to the sky and noticed that we were nearing our harvest moon which is a great indication that many migrants will begin their journey south by the cover of night.

The woodcock’s migration was my sign that fall is upon us.

Camouflage

“Timberdoodle,” as they are referred to in some parts of the U.S. are a medium sized bird weighing around 7 ounces and having a wingspan of approximately 18 inches.

They are quite the sight to see when flushed unexpectedly from under your feet, as I did during the third week of Ohio’s squirrel season.

One of the many unique things about the American Woodcock is its ability to camouflage itself into its surroundings.

American Woodcocks like wet woods, moist thickets, and brushy marshes and favors a mix of open fields and forestland.

The American Woodcock utilizes its uniquely long slender bill to probe the soil in search of food such as earthworms and insect larvae.

Spring songs

Moving forward from the fall to the dawn of spring, American Woodcock perform one of the single coolest mating rituals that you can bear witness to in our part of the world.

Male woodcock will display at dusk with a serenading, loud nasally “PEEENT” sound. If that isn’t enough to woo their lady woodcock, they repeat this process.

If you’re listening from a distance it will sound as if the bird is getting farther away and then closer again, this is because the male woodcock will spin in a circle while singing his nasally song.

Once he has made a circle or two on his ground position, the male woodcock will take flight in what Aldo Leopold called the “Sky Dance” which is their winnowing flight display.

According to David Allen Sibley, they produce a low pulsing whistling sound that is enhanced by the rush of wind over their tail feathers.

As the bird plunges towards the ground and takes sharp directional changes, you’ll hear a variety of chirps resulting in a tewp tilp tooptip chorus during the flight display.

There are many places in Ohio in which you can enjoy this neat bird. Ohio does have a hunting season for woodcock and sportsmen have enjoyed pursuing them for years as they are a fun, fast, challenge.

Hunting

Woodcock hunting is often associated with good company, whether it be by companionship of a longtime friend or by that of your favorite bird dog.

Knowing the habitats these birds utilize will prove successful. There are many recipes for woodcock available but if you read back to what their diet consists of, you’ll see what I believe them to taste like.

Regardless, whether for sport or pleasure get out and enjoy this beautifully unique creature we have here in the great state of Ohio.

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Levi Arnold is the agriculture technician for the Belmont County Soil and Water Conservation District. He is a recent graduate of Zane State College with a degree in wildlife and fisheries management.

1 COMMENT

  1. On a wet rainy day (29th oct 2020)saw this forlorn bird in New York city in a corner of a bldg. Was wondering which species it was and lucky for me I was able to find it on your website. thank you.

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