American Woodcock

The American woodcock (Scolopax minor) is a small, plump shorebird about the size of a robin. The woodcock, or timber doodle as it is sometimes called, prefers to spend most of its time at ground level in young, brushy forest habitats and old fields, preferring damp to wet locations.

The peak activity of these birds is during the early morning hours and at dusk when they are in search of food. American Woodcock are typically found in the eastern part of North America, extending from the Canadian Provinces down to the Gulf States. Those woodcock found in the northern part of the range will migrate south during the winter; they are year-round residents throughout most of Maryland.

The male woodcock has an unusual courtship display. During courtship, the male flies 200 to 300 feet in the air, then spirals down to the ground, attracting mates with this aerial performance and an unusual courtship song. The woodcock has only one brood per year consisting of three to four chicks. Fortunately, these chicks grow fast and are well-camouflaged so that chick mortality is fairly low compared to other birds.

Credit: wikimedia.org - guizmo_68

With eyes on the side of their head, woodcock have almost circular peripheral vision. The long bill, eyes, serrated beak and orientation of the brain in these birds appear to be adaptations for probing the ground for earthworms and other food.

Populations of American woodcock have shown a steady decline since the 1970s. Researchers estimate that woodcock numbers are decreasing 1.2 percent per year since that high water mark. The main reason for this decline is the loss of old field/young forest habitat, due mostly to clearing for other land uses and the maturation of young forests into the traditional high- forest state. In 2008, a number of conservation groups and researchers developed the Woodcock Conservation Plan. The purpose of this plan is to detail the reasons for declining populations, and develop a strategy for the restoration of woodcock habitat throughout its native range.

The plan calls for regional initiatives spearheaded by experienced wildlife biologists designed to provide technical assistance to public and private landowners on how to create desirable habitat. Public and private conservation groups are also tasked with monitoring local woodcock populations and habitat development and recommend that 50 demonstration areas be developed across woodcock’s home range to assist with this effort.

The plan stipulates that nearly 20 million acres of habitat needs to be created to restore woodcock to their pre 1970s level. In Maryland it was estimated that 32,500 acres of young forest must be established by 2022 to stop the decline, and 47,700 acres of new forest created by 2022 to eventually return woodcock to their historical levels.

Maryland has active programs designed to create brushy young forest/old field habitats for woodcock, golden winged warbler, and the other animals that are dependent on this habitat.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 1/31/2016