The woodcock is called the "Timberdoodle" by hunters and bird watchers, and is one of the trickiest fliers of all the game birds and the most difficult to locate in singles or in flocks.
They are migratory and are seen best during the spring and fall periods of movement since they flock ^up at these times. "Woodies" are small, seldom weighing over a quarter of a pound.
Woodcock differ from other similar shore and marsh birds in that they have a very short neck, supporting a small head and extra long bill.
In flight their head seems to be set right on their shoulders just ahead of their fast beating wings. They have very big eyes and their upper parts are colored like a confusion of dead leaves. Only their head has conspicuous bar markings of alternating black and light tan.
Woodcock are solitaries, preferring the swamps, wet woods and damp thickets. They feed mostly at dawn, dusk and through the night and can be found wherever there are muddy sections where they can find succulent worms and grubs.
During the migrating season, particularly in the northeastern states, the birds from as far north as Newfoundland and Nova Scotia mix with the resident birds to form an enlarged population for the bird watcher and hunter. The first cold rains and winds of fall generally start them on their southern trip and it is at this time that hunters seek them out for what is known as the greatest little game bird in all the land.
When they rise either in front of a lone hunter or a sporting dog, they do not run or hide as the pheasant or turkey, but rise boldly into quick dashing flight straight up and out. Usually they sound off with a surprised burplike call. Even though they travel in flocks they seldom rise together. More than three or four rising at once would be the exception.
The female lays from two to five eggs and the young quickly learn the ways to the nearest mud puddle and start digging with their bills for worms and grubs.
Since they are migratory, they are subject to federal as well as state government conservation laws and, as such, will be protected from overshooting and guaranteed protection along their migratory routes with wildlife sanctuaries. Much of their natural breeding grounds and feeding stations have been developed for real estate and farming, but their protection is assured for years to come.
This game bird is a "cycle" bird, vulnerable to periodic disease and thus great variances in numbers. One year, the flight will be exceptionally large and then the next year there will be only a few birds. They are not strong and therefore cannot resist sudden and drastic temperature changes. Since their food consists mostly of worms if they fail to depart for the South soon enough, whole flocks can suddenly perish. They are also subject to pollution, and since many of our mud flat areas are often polluted, this is a source of trouble.
I have done some of my best woodcock hunting in Nova Scotia, Maine and central New York State, and often found them in company with the ruffed grouse, though generally they prefer the more swampy areas and damp thickets.
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