American Woodcock

Experts at camouflaging themselves amongst the leaf litter, the American Woodcock’s mottled brown plumage helps them trick humans and their prey. They maintain a slow gait on the floor of the forests. They probe around using their long bill until they find earthworms hiding in the soil. 

Opposite of their relatives on the coast, this plump shorebird species prefer shrubby open fields and young forests found in the east of North America. In the daytime, they maintain a low profile, hiding in the dense forests. Their brown plumage that mixes with the color of autumn leaves makes it harder to find them. It’s only at dusk, in spring, that you can see the male Woodcocks come out of their shell, performing display flights and calling loudly to attract the attention of a mate. 

Today, we’ll learn about: 

  • American Woodcock color patterns, songs, and size
  • American Woodcock behavior, habitat, and diet
  • American Woodcock life cycle, nesting, and migration range


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American Woodcocks Color Pattern

Adult American Woodcocks have a mix of white and cinnamon colors on their belly and chest. The underparts are completely cinnamon shade. Then, they have a gray collar. Their bill and leg are brown, though it seems to resemble the color of fading wood trees a lot. On their back, there are stripes of gray. Their face has a buffy color while the crown is on the black shade side. Their overall body plumage color consists of buff, black, light brown, and brownish-gray tones. The mix of shades lightens around the back and neck. The shoulders have a mix of brown, black, and gray. Then, the wings are brown. If you see them on the autumn grassy fields, you might not notice them at all. 

Description And Identification

Identifying American Woodcocks is actually extremely easy. The harder part is spotting them when they refuse to come out of the dense forests in the day. And even if you see them in the morning, you might not be able to immediately ascertain it is them. They are so good at hiding in the grassy field with their plumage that matches the color of the field. 

The only thing you can do is wait until dusk or dawn in autumn to identify them. After that, it is a test of patience. As you hear their peent calls and the twittering sounds of their wings, try to follow them until you find them in the dark night. Then, you can observe them quietly from a distance using your binocular. There aren’t many species with plumage that has so many peculiar color patterns. Even the body shape is a giveaway since not many small birds have such a long, straight bill. 

American Woodcock Song 

While performing their display flights, a series of peent calls are let out by the male American Woodcocks. These are all buzzy sounds with a lot of nasal activity in them. Once on-air, the male who is displaying comes down at a high speed. A melodic series of chirps are heard during this short flight downward, lasting for 15 seconds at times. 

On the other hand, when the male makes his way upward into the sky, a twittering sound is heard from the wings too. This is due to the wind coming in contact with the tip of the wings, where their outer primaries are. They make this sound not only while flying but also during other various activities. 

American Woodcock Size

Plum with short legs, American Woodcocks are shorebirds of North America. For a species with such a small body, the bill is longer than you can begin to imagine. Their bill is adorned by a large head, though not big compared to the bill. They also have a short neck space and an equally short tail. In fact, the tail is so short, you might think the bill was given as compensation for it. They also have round, broad wings ideal for flight. It is nothing like the ones you see on other shorebirds. 

A Killdeer is both smaller in length and size than American Woodcocks. A Rock Pigeon happens to be bigger than them though. In length, American Woodcocks are somewhere from 25 to 31 cm. In weight, they range anywhere from 116 g to 279 g. Their wings, broader than what one would assume from their body, can be between 42 to 48 cm. 

American Woodcock Behavior

Their main feeding behavior involves poking their bill into the soil that has been softened with water. They have a sensitive and flexible bill tip. So, not only can they explore the soil closely for their prey, they can catch the creature moving around on it. 

Sometimes, while standing, they make this odd, rocking movement. The expectation is probably that the vibration they create will probably force the earthworms to move and announce their presence. There are also signs suggesting American Woodcocks are capable of hearing the sound made by creatures that are buried under the ground. 

What American Woodcocks Eat

The largest portion of their diet consists of insects and earthworms. Mainly, earthworms serve as the main food source, regardless of the piece of land Woodcocks are inhabiting. We can’t neglect insects as part of their diet though. Especially the ones who bury themselves under the ground, such as crane flies and beetles are of the important food variety to them. 

Snails, spiders, and millipedes can be replacement food in times of need. Some plants such as grasses and smartweeds have made their way into their diet to diversify it. 

Where American Woodcocks Live And Habitat

There are many habitats dear to American Woodcocks. They enjoy the brushy swamps and wet woodlands as much as moist thickets. Their ideal habitat happens to be a balance of open fields and mixed forests. Often, they will spend the daytime inside the dense forests while at night, they come out to the open fields. This makes the night the ideal time if you want to see them once. 

Deciduous and mixed woods happen to be their favorite places owing to the wet soil and second growths. The streams where thickets run alongside them are one of the many places they like living and inhabiting. At night, their living quarters change drastically. Suddenly, they are in farm fields that have been long left to their devices, on the edges of open swamps, and in open pasture lands. Typically like to live in the Northern States.

Range and Migration

Just at the east 98th Meridian, American Woodcocks filter around forested lands and places with mixed attributes of urban, forest, and agricultural. In the north, Woodcocks have been seen in Manitoba and York Factory. In the east, they are in Newfoundland and Labrador. Winter sees them migrating to the extreme south such as Mexico and the states that are found on the Gulf Coast. 

From the west of the Canadian Atlantic, their main breeding ground extends to Manitoba in the southeast. From the southern range, they reach northern Virginia, Kentucky, west of North Carolina, Missouri, north of Illinois, and so on. A limited number of them are found in Texas and Florida during the breeding season. It is assumed that they are expanding their range every year to the north and west. 

Once they reach south come autumn season, the winter is spent southeast of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf Coast for American Woodcocks. The most they stay on the north side would be south of New Jersey, east of Virginia, and south of Maryland

American Woodcock Life Cycle

American Woodcocks usually have 4 eggs. Their range sticks to the 1 to 3 egg variety. Rarely do they lay 5 eggs in a brood. In fact, the rare times you will find more than 5 eggs in a nest, it is possible more than one female laid those. The eggs have a pink color scheme that falls into the buff shade. Some markings of brown and gray can be seen on those. For the incubation part, it is mostly done by the female American Woodcocks. It takes anywhere from 20 to 22 days. 

Only a couple of hours after the eggs are hatched, the downy young are seen hopping out of their nest. The young are tended to and fed by their mother. A couple of days later, the young become capable of foraging themselves. They are seen probing the ground and looking for earthworms. 5 weeks after they are born, they are an independent lot. Before that, at 2 weeks, they learn how to fly. At 3, they have amazing control of their wings. 


In spring and summer, the nighttime is spent with male American Woodcocks making displays to attract a mate. As a result, several male woodcocks end up being too close to each other in the brush fields as they try to show off their flying style. From the ground, they first let out this nasal call. Then, they fly up to perform their twisting display. In this dance they do in the sky, a series of twittering sounds are heard due to their wings coming in contact with the air at a high speed. They also chirp a lot, though this one comes out from their vocal cords. The female American Woodcocks that come to see this display end up choosing one of the males. 

Once mated, the male bears no responsibility for the nest or the young. For the nest site, they usually built it on the ground. The site usually happens to be open fields or one with overgrown agriculture. The nest always has too many dead leaves surrounding them. The nest itself is a scrape of a thing built with dead leaves. Some other small debris is used to build the nest. 

Anatomy of an American Woodcock

Rounded and plump, the overall body shape of American Woodcocks is a peculiar one. Their tail is so small that you can’t find it at all on their body at first. Yet, they have such a long bill idea for underground foraging that it seems their tail was cut off to make space for their bill. They have a round belly, short neck size, and a large head to add further to this shape complication. Then, their legs are so short that it seems a wonder they can walk on the ground. They also have large eyes. Another thing about their head is that it’s not exactly round in shape. Instead, it has this weird curve at the top before rounding off where their face is. 

Final Thoughts

The easiest time to find American Woodcocks would be spring, specifically at dusk. The male woodcocks are busy performing their famous display flights at this time. If you are lucky, you might get to see their sky dance. At first, the dimming sun rays might make it hard for you to locate the species. Instead, keep your focus on your listening sense. Do you hear the buzzy, peculiar peent sound from them? This call of theirs is made in intervals with the display flights of theirs, the spiraling one. 

Once on-air, a chirpy, musical sound is heard from them. Then, as they feel the rush of air through the tips of their wings, twittering notes come out. The good thing about their displays and the following calls is that it continues well into the night. As a birder, the only thing you need to do here is practice patience. Follow the noise source with your ears. And just maybe, you will be able to catch the male American Woodcock stumbling back towards the earth at startling speed while they let out the peent call again. 

Their conservation status shows that a decline has been noted on the east side of the US. Conversely, the population has been growing in places like Canada where thickets grow from the cut coniferous forests. Despite the slight loss of numbers, American Woodcocks can be called a common species, especially in the U.S.


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Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying American Woodcock 

The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing American Woodcock are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here. Check out the kid binoculars.

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American Woodcock Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the American Woodcock. Here is the sticker pack we sell with an American Woodcock sticker.

Bird Feeders For American Woodcock

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Best Bird Houses For American Woodcock

There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

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