Woodcock

Scolopax rusticola

33-35cm

Appearance

This bird has a portly body, relatively short legs, a long, straight bill that tapers, and big eyes. The sexes are similar, and juveniles resemble adult birds. The plumage makes good camouflage, with white and black marbling on the reddish-brown upperparts, and buff, darkly barred underparts. The dark, wide crown is crossed with horizontal, paler lines, and the tail has a silver tip. When flying, the wings lack distinctive markings; they're wide at the base and rounded.

Habitat

Nesting usually takes place in woodland that's deciduous or mixed, or amidst immature conifer plantations. Prefers to stay in the woods through winter, though may seek out damper ground for feeding if necessary.

Character

This is a heavily camouflaged, mostly nocturnal bird; both of these attributes match its secretive nature. It probes surfaces for food, rocking as it does so. Males perform aerial displays in the spring; they fly over prime breeding grounds with slow beats of the wings, making a call known as 'roding'. The longer the roding display, the more dominant the male, which means he gets more female mates. During courtship, silver tips of the tail are revealed. Most often a solitary bird which takes flight and dodges through trees when disturbed.

Food

Uses the nerve endings on the tip of its bill to probe and seek out prey. Diet includes a range of invertebrates such as worms, beetles and their larvae, spiders, caterpillars, fly larvae and small snails.

Breeding

Males can have up to four female partners in one season. Female lays 4 eggs in mid to late April and she incubates them for 21-24 days. Hatchlings have a layer of down and depart the nest quickly, though they don't stray far from female; they can fly after about 20 days.

Population

Majority of the Woodcocks in Britain and Ireland are resident, though there is also a migratory population. More than 800 000 birds arrive from Russia, Latvia and Finland in October and November. During summer, there's approximately 81 000 in the UK and about 2500-10 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

This bird has such a strong camouflage and is predominately nocturnal, both factors which make observation a challenge. The best time to see a Woodcock is at dusk in the spring; in appropriate woodland, listen for the male's roding call.

Voice

During breeding season the male rodes, uttering croaks like that of a frog, then releases a piercing squeak: 'tsiwick, tsiwick'.
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