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American woodcock

Scolopax minor

What do they look like?

American woodcocks are short, plump birds with very long bills (5.9 to 7.8 cm). Their feathers are mottled brown, rich buff and gray. These colors camouflage them in their woodland habitat. Woodcocks have large heads with three dark bands across the back. They have large brown eyes and rounded wings.

Male and female American woodcocks look very similar, but females are bigger than males. Female American woodcocks range from 27 to 31 cm long and can weigh 151 to 279 g. Their wingspans range from 44.6 to 50.8 cm. Males range from 25 to 28 cm long and weigh 116 to 219 g. Their wingspans range from 40.4 to 45.5 cm (Keppie and Whiting, 1994; Terres, 1980).

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    116 to 279 g
    4.09 to 9.83 oz
  • Range length
    25 to 31 cm
    9.84 to 12.20 in
  • Range wingspan
    40 to 51 cm
    15.75 to 20.08 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.066 W

Where do they live?

American woodcocks occurs only in North America. They are distributed widely in the eastern United States and southeast Canada. Some individuals may winter in the Caribbean (Keppie and Whiting 1994).

What kind of habitat do they need?

American woodcocks live in forests that have open areas. A mixture of young forests and farm fields is ideal for woodcocks. Woodcocks move around between habitats for different activities and in different seasons. They sing in areas with woody vegetation, and they forage along forest edges. They nest many different habitats, including open fields, forests and old fields. In winter, they live in forests.

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • temperate

How do they reproduce?

American woodcocks are polygynous. This means that each male may mate with many females. Males attract a mate by performing a courtship flight, called a “sky dance,” at dusk and dawn. They spiral up high, flittering their wings and chirping, and then circle quickly back to the ground, where they make a peenting call. The areas where males perform this display are called 'singing sites' or 'breeding fields', and males usually return to the same fields each year. Females chose which male to breed with after seeing the males’ “sky dances.” The male and female do not form a pair-bond, and the males do not help care for the eggs or chicks.

The female woodcock builds a simple nest on the ground. Sometimes she builds no nest at all and lays the eggs on leaf litter on the ground instead. She lays 1 to 5 (usually 4) grayish-orange eggs. She incubates them for 20 to 22 (usually 21) days. All of the eggs in a nest hatch within 4 to 5 hours, and the female broods the chicks until they are dry. The chicks and the mother all leave the nest together a few hours after the chicks hatch. The female broods and protects the chicks until they are 15 to 20 days old. She feeds them for the first week, but they are able to search for food when they are 3 to 4 days old. The chicks are nearly fully grown 28 days after hatching. They become independent from their mother when they are 31 to 38 days old. They are ready to mate when they are 10 to 12 months old. (Keppie and Whiting, 1994; Terres, 1980)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    American woodcocks breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    American woodcocks begin breeding activities as early as January, though most activity takes place in April and May.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    20 to 22 days
  • Range fledging age
    1 (high) days
  • Range time to independence
    31 to 38 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10 to 12 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 to 12 months

Male woodcocks do not provide any parental care. Female woodcocks build the nest and incubate the eggs for approximately 21 days. They brood and protect the precocial chicks until they reach independence, and feed the chicks for the first week after hatching.

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

The maximum known lifespan of American woodcocks is 8 years.

How do they behave?

American woodcocks are solitary birds. They are most active from at dusk and dawn, and sometimes on moonlit nights or cloudy days. American woodcocks also migrate at night. They may migrate alone, or in small flocks. During migration, you may see flocks in city parks, yards, orchards, or on lawns.

Home Range

Studies of American woodcocks have estimated home range sizes between 150,000 and 740,000 square meters.

How do they communicate with each other?

American woodcocks use songs and physical displays to communicate. They make at least four different calls. These calls are called the Peent, Tuko, Chirping and Cackle. Males perform a beautiful display called a “song flight” or “sky dance”. They fly silently into the air in wide circles until they reach about 100 m high. Their wings make a twittering sound as they rise. They hover in the air, and then begin singing and chirping. They keep singing and chirping as they fall down to the ground like a leaf. This display is probably done to attract female mates.

What do they eat?

American woodcocks eat invertebrates. More than half of their food is earthworms, but they also eat beetles, flies, centipedes, and insect larvae. They eat seeds too, but not very often.

American woodcocks eat during the day in spring and summer. In winter, they eat at night. They usually eat alone, but they don’t defend a territory. Woodcocks search for food by looking, or by feeling for the food or listening for it. They might stomp on the ground to disturb earthworms that are underground. If the earthworms move, woodcocks can find them by listening for them, or by feeling them with their bills.

Woodcocks probably do not drink water. They get enough water in the foods that they eat.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Woodcocks are very vulnerable to predators. Adults, chicks and eggs are all eaten by many different birds and mammals, including house cats. Eggs are also eaten by snakes.

Woodcocks are cryptically colored. Their mottled brown, buff and gray feathers help them to blend in with the ground. This makes them harder for predators to see. If a predator comes near, female woodcocks may pretend to be injured to distract the predator from the eggs or chicks.

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

American woodcocks affect the earthworms and insect species that they eat. They may also aerate the soil while probing for insects and earthworms. They also provide habitat for at least 49 different types of body parasites.

Do they cause problems?

There are no known adverse affects of American woodcocks on humans.

How do they interact with us?

American woodcocks are a popular gamebird. An average of 2 million American woodcocks are shot each year by hunters.

Are they endangered?

Populations of American woodcocks seem to be getting smaller. Woodcocks die when they crash into cars, utility wires, lighthouses, TV towers, or other tall structures during migration. They are also sometimes killed by hunters, or in winter when there are long periods of cold or freezing weather and food is unavailable. Scientists are worried that American woodcocks are being poisoned by pesticides that are used near their habitat.

American woodcocks are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

Some more information...

American woodcocks have several other interesting common names, including timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge and bog sucker (Keppie and Whiting, Jr. 1994).


Kari Kirschbaum (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Alicia Ivory (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Keppie, D.M. and R.M. Whiting, Jr. 1994. American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). In The Birds of North America, No. 100 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.

Terres, J. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1980.

Patuxent Science Information Systems, "Effect of hunting on survival and habitat use by American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) on breeding and migration areas" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at

U.S. Forest Service, "Fire Effects Information Service" (On-line). Accessed 2002 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Ivory, A. 2002. "Scolopax minor" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 20, 2014 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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