Birds – American Woodcock

Closely allied to the last is the well-known American Woodcock (Philohela minor), which differs from its Old World relative in having short, rounded wings in which the three outer primaries are very narrow and attenuated, the fourth and fifth quills being equal and longest. It has the same full, compact body, long bill, and large head and eyes, for it, too, is mainly nocturnal in its habits. The plumage above is variegated with pale ashy, rufous, or yellowish red of various shades and black, the front of the crown being slaty buff, with three transverse bands of black alternating with three of yellowish rufous on the back of the head, and an indistinct black band from the eye to the bill, while the under parts are a pale grayish rufous; the length is about eleven inches.

Although the Woodcock is found throughout most of the eastern United States, its true home is in the Mississippi Valley and the northern and middle tiers of states, where it finds extensive feeding grounds such as alder swamps, marshy ground along streams, and fields of growing corn. Its food consists almost entirely of earthworms and its requirements are so great that a bird weighing only six ounces has been known to devour at least half a pound of worms in twenty-four hours. It is mainly nocturnal, remaining concealed during the brighter parts of the day, though sometimes it may feed during dark weather or when in very close, thick cover, but when dusk comes it is all activity, and it leaves its hiding place for the feeding grounds in marsh or field. Its flight is somewhat variable both in force and swiftness, as when flushed it sometimes rises in a labored, irregular manner, but at others it is off with a swiftness that taxes the marksmanship to the utmost. The Woodcock is an early migrant, returning from its winter home in the South Atlantic and Gulf States to the latitude of New York by March first, and the nesting season is also early, eggs having been noted in Florida in the first part of February, and even in the most northern part of its range the young are out by or before June. The period of incubation has recently been determined by Dr. Paul Bartsch to be about thirty days.