American Woodcock

Go To Ground-Nesting Birds 2024 for an Intro to this series & Links to other pages

April 1, 2024

American Woodcock, Dartmouth site on April 8, 2015
Photos by Joshua Barss Donham

This funny little feathered friend would like to thank you for sticking to the trails while they’re nesting – contrary to what we often think about birds, the American Woodcock makes its nests right on the ground.

Woodcocks are secretive and solitary. Their mottled reddish brown, gray, and black feathers make them almost invisible on the forest floor. They are so well hidden that they are often observed when startled – exploding from their hiding place with the air twittering through their wingtips!

In the early spring, Woodcocks move to more open areas for courtship. Males put on a “sky dance” mating display for the females at dawn and dusk. They announce themselves with buzzy peent sounds & air twittering through their wings, as they spiral from 300ft heights.

Woodcock hens then make a shallow nest on the ground in the leaf litter, laying as many as five eggs, one per day. If a Woodcock Mama feels the nest is being threatened they will lure the predator away by pretending to be an easy meal themselves – staggering and dragging a fake broken wing before abruptly flying off once they feel the predator has been successfully diverted!

The eggs hatch in about three weeks. Unlike many species, Woodcock chicks leave the nest just hours after hatching, then spend about a month foraging with their mother before they head out on their own.
Help keep these little guys safe by keeping your feet & your dog’s feet on the trails from March – August.

– The Ground-Nesting Bird Group:
Joshua Barss Donham, Ilona Inman, Fulton Lavender, Cathy Smalley, Katharine Studholme

Page posted by David P 1Apr2023