Bird Database

American Woodcock

(Scolopax minor)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Habitat loss and fragmentation, Habitat maturation,

Conservation Actions

Create early successional habitats, manage hunting seasons

American Woodcock

(Scolopax minor)

As shorebirds go, the American Woodcock is an outlier in several respects. First off, it is completely terrestrial and almost never encountered in habitats wetter than damp woods. Except for during the male’s display (see below), woodcock spend most of their time in forests, especially those dominated by samplings. Maturation of openings and young forest is a primary cause of slow declines in woodcock populations, and considerable effort has been put into ensuring such habitats are maintained.

Secondly, the American Woodcock is partially nocturnal. The most obvious manifestation of this is the male’s display flight, or “sky dance.” The male will set up a small territory in an open area, and at dusk or dawn commence this display with a long series of nasal “peent” calls given from the ground. After several minutes he will launch into the air and spiral upward making a twittering sound with highly-modified wing feathers. After going as high as 300 feet, the male then descends to the ground making chirping noises, lands quietly, and starts the whole sequence over again. The dance will be repeated for as long as an hour, sometimes interrupted when a female is attracted. This species is polygynous, and a male with a particularly attractive dance or dance floor will like mate several times during the display season from April through early June.

Woodcock have unusually large eyes that help them see under low light conditions. These are also positioned to allow for binocular vision at both the front and back of their heads, presumably an adaptation to aerial predators under low-light conditions. The tip of their very long bill is flexible, thus allowing them to grab worms deep in soft soil without needing to open their beak. If prey are near the surface the woodcock detects them by sight, but there is some evidence that they can also hear worms moving underground. It has even been speculated that the odd wobbling walk of woodcocks generates vibrations that cause worms to move – and thus be easier to detect.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

American Woodcock
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count