Since 2016, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center has managed ½ acre around its deciduous forest to provide American Woodcock with habitat in which to conduct mating rituals and provide nesting ground.
Throughout the Eastern United States and the southeast portion of Canada is home to the Scolopax minor, commonly known as, the American Woodcock. Known for their beautiful mating display, American Woodcock are a favorite among many shorebird enthusiasts and have found themselves on the 2014 State of the Bird Watch List. This list identifies species of birds in most danger to become extinct unless conservation efforts are enacted to protect them.
American Woodcock are the only species of shorebirds that can still be hunted as wild game and this has contributed to its decline in population. (Raftovich et al, 2012) However, it is not a major factor of large-scale decrease in population as harvest numbers have plummeted from 1.5 million a year during the 1970’s to around 300,000 per year by 2010. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Today, the American Woodcock population is on the decline due to both human encroachment and succession that eliminate critical habitat needed for shelter and reproduction. American Woodcock forage for insects along the forest floor which subject them to an accumulation of pesticides. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Woodcock inhabit early successional forests and old fields that provide a habitat full of shrubby understories to protect nest along the forest floor. During the mating season, male Woodcock look for open circular sections within a deciduous forest to perform their mating rituals. It begins at dawn and again at dusk with a loud “peent” call and strutting around to attract the females to a mating site. Once the males have an audience, it is time for the dance. Males will take to the air to perform a series of beautiful aerial spirals before returning alongside a female. (Department of Natural Resources)
If the female is taken by the male’s dance, they will mate and go their separate ways. Males will perform this dance throughout the mating season and at multiple mating grounds in a pursuit to pass on his genetic code; while the female will build a nest close by to independently care for her eggs.
Female Woodcock create a small circular depression 5 inches long and 1.5 inches deep to lay a clutch of 1 to 5 eggs. After the female lays her eggs, she will have to incubate them for 20-22 days before they begin to hatch. Once the chicks have hatched, they will spend most of their time around the nest until the fall migration. During that time, chicks will begin feeding by themselves in three days time and will be full grown after 4 weeks. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
American Woodcock use their elongated beaks to “probe” the ground as they search for food. They are equipped with a concentration of nerve endings at the tip of their beaks that can help them locate prey. This feeding technique can be observed in the video here.
- American Woodcock Life History, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2018, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Woodcock/lifehistory
- Maryland Birds. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2018, from http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/woodcock.aspx
- Raftovich, R. V., K. A. Wilkins, S. S. Williams and H. L. Spriggs. 2012a. Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2010 and 2011 hunting seasons. Laurel: US Fish and Wildlife Service.