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Meet Nature's Dance Off Champion: The American Woodcock

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

What in the world is a Woodcock?

Photo via Shutterstock

An American Woodcock is a shorebird that thought the shore was overrated. These small plump short-legged birds prefer open fields that border or mix with forests. They have brown speckled feathers that make for perfect camouflage against tall grasses and forest floor. Using a long bendy bill, woodcocks poke into muddy areas in search of earthworms and other delicious insects. Their large eyes are set far back in their heads. This creates the largest visual field of view of any bird and any other land living vertebrates!

Dancing Kings

Woodcocks sometimes rock back and forth while stomping to help search for food. The idea is that this dance move creates vibrations that disturb earthworms. It is thought the woodcock can use its long bill to feel anything that moves underground.

The real show is when the males dance to attract females. First, they must wait until all of the other critters have fallen silent for the night. Then, they find the perfect stage in a meadow with shorter grasses allowing the females front row seats to all the action. The males start with a nasally “peent” call while strutting around in a circle. Then the males take to the sky flying in a spiral 300 feet high while making twittering sounds with its wings. Finally, the woodcock makes a mad dash, zigzagging down to the ground chirping the whole way. Just as you think it will have a crash landing, the woodcock stops, zigzags and floats like a weightless piece of paper gently landing on the ground. The male will repeat this dance until it gets too dark to be seen. If there is a full moon lighting the meadow dance floor, the party may go all night long!

It’s All in The Name

The Latin scientific name for specific plants and animals is the same name everywhere in the world. However common names for the same species can be different depending on where you are from. The set scientific name for American Woodcock is Scolopax minor. Other common names for the American Woodcock are: timberdoodle, bog sucker, hokumpoke, fiddle squeak and night partridge.


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