Also known as Timberdoodles (timber, for their woodland habitat, doodle because they look somewhat silly), American Woodcocks can be found in the spring as they come to breed in New England. While they are a member of the sandpiper family, they live in wooded habitats instead of the shore. Throughout the spring, they can be found at dusk performing their iconic aerial courtship display.
American woodcocks are plump, medium-sized birds with a russet or brown color on the belly, and lined with darker pattern on the back and wings. Their plumage allows them to stay well hidden in their wooded habitat. These birds have a long, flexible bill with far-set eyes to help stay alert for potential threats as they search for food.
In the spring, American Woodcocks travel from the southeastern United States to New England for breeding. They spend the day nesting in forested areas and using their long beak to find worms and insects in the mud.
As dusk approaches, males move to a more open habitat to perform their courtship display. The male woodcock’s dance begins on the ground, where he calls to females with a nasal peent, or piping sound. Males then soar to 200 or 300 feet before spiraling down while making high-pitched chirps and twitters in the sky.
Nesting & Life Cycle
After mating, males play no role in nesting or incubation. Female woodcocks create a ground nest on forest floors or overgrown fields. Nests are made of dead leaves and other debris. The incubation period for the eggs is 20 to 22 days.
Chicks can leave the nest a few hours after hatching and can fly short distances by two weeks. After one month, chicks are almost fully grown and can fly long distances. The mother and chicks disband after six to eight weeks.
Although American Woodcocks are not endangered or threatened, their breeding grounds are. Wooded and shrubby landscapes are impacted by human development and climate change. As part of Mass Audubon’s Foresters for the Birds program, a project that assists landowners in enhancing bird habitats on wooded properties, created over 30 acres of protected habitat for the American Woodcock, at demonstration site in the Elm Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.
Learn more about the American Woodcock in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2.