American Woodcock Bird (Scolopax minor)

American woodcock

The American woodcock bird, also known as Scolopax minor, is one of two birds in the Scolopax genus, and family Scolopacidae, commonly referred to as woodcock in North America (the other being the Eurasian or common woodcock).

They are among the most well-known inhabitants of North American deciduous and mixed forests, though they can also be found in open fields, particularly at night while they feed or migrate.

Scolopax minor is considered a migratory game bird by the US Fish and Wildlife Service because it can be hunted legally in certain areas of the country during certain times of the year.

The American woodcock, with other colloquial nicknames like the timberdoodle, the bogsucker, the hokumpoke, and the Labrador twister, is a bird species in the sandpiper family, Scolopacidae.

This wading bird breeds in much of Canada and the northern United States, as well as some more northerly areas in the southern U.S., such as Minnesota and Montana. The male has chestnut-brown upperparts with black-and-white barring on its back, and bright orange underparts with bold black-and-white barring on its breast and sides, which are visible when it flies or displays at close range.

It has become endangered due to the draining of wetlands and other human activities but efforts have been made to preserve it.

Here’s what you need to know about this bird’s history, anatomy, habitat, reproduction, and more.


American woodcock

The American woodcock bird is a type of wading bird that has a black cap, brownish upper parts, and grayish underparts. Their wingspan ranges from 17 to 19 inches. One identifying characteristic is their asymmetrical tail feathers with the outermost feather being longer than the innermost one.

The American woodcock migrates twice a year, in the spring and fall months. The peak time for this migration to occur is during late October and early November. They are very small birds that only grow up to 10-12 inches long.

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They are mainly nocturnal and active at night. They can be found feeding on earthworms, grubs, spiders, beetles, crickets, and other insects on the ground or digging through moist soil or leaf litter.

American woodcock bird scientific name

The scientific name of the American woodcock bird is Scolopax minor

American woodcock range and habitat

The American woodcock is a migratory bird that can be found throughout North America. Its preferred habitat is dense forests or brushes with access to standing water. While the American woodcock eats primarily earthworms, it will also eat other invertebrates and small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles if they are abundant on the forest floor.

The American woodcock usually roosts on the ground and nests on the ground or is elevated up to 2 meters off of the ground in shrubs, vines, or low trees.

Size and weight

The American woodcock is very small, about the size of a mourning dove, which is around 10 to 12 inches in length and has a wingspan of around 17 to 19 inches. It has a short, round body with a long neck and head. It also has short wings and legs that are about as long as its body.

The bill is short and slightly flattened, helping it dig through dirt to find food. Adults weigh only about 8 – 12 ounces.

Feathers and plumage

American woodcock

This North American bird is stocky and has long feathers on its head. The plumage varies depending on the season, with a brownish-white winter coat that turns to a dark blackish-brown in summer. Its coloration helps it blend into the ground when roosting, making it difficult to see.

The male woodcock also has a distinctive courtship dance, consisting of rapid up-and-down movements of the wings followed by a sharp jabbing motion; this ritual can be seen throughout spring and early summer.


During the molt, a new set of feathers grows underneath the old feathers. Once all the new feathers have grown in, usually in a couple of weeks or so, the bird rubs off all its old feathers and falls to the ground until it regains strength.

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When it’s ready, the woodcock’s head is pointed upward for an average of twenty minutes while it shakes loose all its old feathers. The bird then lets itself fall to the ground again where it can get a full meal before its next flight.

Nesting behavior

The American woodcock lives in wet woods and meadows, often at the edge of a pond or field. Like other shorebirds, the woodcock’s nest is composed of a ground layer and an upper layer that is lined with leaves, grasses, down feathers, moss, and occasionally fur.

In addition to brushy woods near water, lightly wooded hillsides above moist bottomlands, old fields with low ground cover, and shrub thickets are favorable nesting habitats. In North America, woodcocks nest in March, making them the earliest ground nesters.

Diet and foraging

Woodcocks have one of the most complicated diets of any bird. They can eat over a thousand different species of insects and plant matter. Woodcocks are mostly nocturnal but will forage during daylight hours when it is cloudy or foggy out.

Sounds and vocal behavior

The male American woodcock makes a sound called a peent and when threatened, he will winnow loudly. This loud sound is made by air rushing through its feathers which creates an unworldly sound. These peents and winnows also help in locating other members of the species.

Males make these sounds to attract females and to defend their territory. Females do not make these sounds but they can make certain calls when they are threatened or are trying to attract males. These vocalizations may vary depending on where they live in North America because there are slight differences between populations of this bird across different regions.

The sounds have also sometimes been likened to that of frogs, especially when they are warning off any invaders.


American woodcock

Breeding occurs in northeastern Canada and southeast Manitoba, going south to northern Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky, northern Tennessee, northern Illinois, and eastern Kansas. Woodcocks can also breed in Florida and Texas, but only in lower numbers.

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There’s a chance that the species are migrating northward and westward.
American woodcocks, which breed only once per year, usually start doing so in January, but most of the breeding activity takes place in April and May, producing an average of 4 eggs per season.

Woodcock males do not provide any parental care. Females build the nest and incubate the eggs for around 20 to 22 days before hatching, and the fledglings stay with their parent for around 31 to 38 days before they gain their independence and feed the fledglings for the first week after hatching.


The American woodcock bird can live from 8-10 years in the wild.

Movements and migration

The American woodcock lives in moist, forested areas with short vegetation. It migrates to the southern United States and Central America from late summer to winter. In spring, it leaves the Mexican highlands and moves northward over much of the U.S., but mostly north of 40°N latitude.

It’s especially abundant in central and eastern North America, where local populations can be quite large.

Diseases and threats

The American woodcock bird has very few disease threats. However, their population is often negatively impacted by forest and residential development. Habitat destruction caused by these developments disrupts the woodcocks’ life cycle, which leads to a decline in the population.

The use of herbicides also poses a threat as they can have an adverse effect on food sources for the birds that live near treated areas.

Population status

A decline is noted in the American Woodcock population between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. It is estimated that the global breeding population numbers 3.5 million, and it scored 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating that the species faces relatively low conservation concerns.

The population is shrinking in some parts of its range, but not due to any known diseases or other threats. The main cause of the population decline appears to be the loss of habitat from forestry and agricultural practices.

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The American woodcock may be negatively impacted by various hunting techniques. Lead poisoning from ingestion or wound exposure could also affect the bird’s numbers.

Conservation and management

With their wetland habitat threatened by encroaching suburban development, American woodcocks have sought new habitats, which has made them more vulnerable to motor vehicles.

To counteract this trend, work is being done on the conservation and management of their moist ground-level habitat in order to maintain healthy populations.

In Ohio, a five-year pilot study has been completed that shows areas that are still suitable for sustaining nesting colonies. In addition, a population viability analysis was conducted to determine at what rate local populations are increasing or decreasing.

Faced with an unsustainable rate of habitat loss due to urbanization, American woodcocks must be protected so they can continue making their distinctive call at dusk during mating season.