Scolopax – Woodcocks

Also known by many other names, such as timberdoodle, night partridge, Labrador twister, and bog sucker

Woodcocks are intriguing shorebirds that have adapted to live away from the shore in wooded and forested habitats. Though they are classified as wading birds, their life in dense cover is quite different from their relatives who inhabit open wetlands. Woodcocks are well-known for their cryptic brown and black mottled plumage, providing excellent camouflage among the leaf litter and underbrush of the forest floor.

Size-wise, woodcocks are small birds but are substantially larger than hummingbirds, typically about the size of a robin or a small pigeon. Their body shape is notably rounded and plump, with short legs and a stocky appearance. This build is conducive to their feeding habits and lifestyle; woodcocks probe the soil for invertebrates, primarily earthworms, which make up the bulk of their diet.

One of the woodcock’s most distinctive features is its long, straight bill, which can reach lengths of up to 8 centimeters (3 inches). The bill is not just long but also highly sensitive, tipped with sensory receptors that allow the bird to detect its prey underground. This specialized bill is a remarkable evolutionary adaptation, enabling woodcocks to feed effectively in their habitat.

The placement of woodcocks’ eyes is another unique adaptation. Their large eyes are set far back on the head, which allows for nearly 360-degree vision. This placement is crucial for spotting potential predators while their heads are down during foraging.

Woodcocks are also known for their unique courtship display, which takes place at dawn and dusk during the breeding season. Males perform a “sky dance,” a spiraling flight into the air followed by a zigzag descent, accompanied by distinctive twittering sounds made by air passing through their wing feathers. The display is not just visual but auditory, with the tail feathers contributing to the overall effect by making a unique sound as they cut through the air.