Meet The Elusive American Woodcock

Dance of the Timberdoodle

The American woodcock lives across eastern North America. It can be recognized by its long beak and distinctive call, but its camouflaged coloring makes it hard to find. Photo by Rodney Campbell

The American woodcock lives across eastern North America. It can be recognized by its long beak and distinctive call, but its camouflaged coloring makes it hard to find. Photo by Rodney Campbell

By Charlotte Wray

Characterized by a long bill, short and stout stature, extravagant mating display and a nickname like timberdoodle, the American woodcock would seem to be a bird that stands out. But that is not the case.

Well-camouflaged and motionless until up close, the American woodcock is actually very hard to find. Capturing the birds for research requires a good eye for potential woodcock habitat, as they rest in dense forest during the day to avoid predation and roost, feed and perform courtship displays in open fields at night, says Joe Moore, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas. Moore works with wildlife agencies and other organizations to track the birds and learn more about their migration habits.

“You can walk within a foot of a woodcock and they’re not going to move,” says Jesse Pope, executive director of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation in Avery County, N.C. “They’re just sitting there, really still, that’s their mechanism of survival. They’ll let a predator get within really close proximity before they fly.”

Woodcocks are found throughout the year across eastern North America. The summer range of woodcock includes the northern Appalachians and the wintering range includes the southern Appalachians. States in central Appalachia are in the transition zone, providing habitat for breeding, wintering and migrating woodcock.

Pope has spotted the woodcock occasionally throughout the winter in western North Carolina. In Appalachia, hens begin nesting in March, and lay eggs that hatch several weeks later, according to Pope.

This region also provides a stopover habitat for the species, which is a place for birds to rest and “refuel” during long migrations, according to Moore.

Many migration details are unknown due to the difficulty of locating individual birds multiple times throughout the annual cycle, but recent advancements in satellite transmitters now allow remote tracking of woodcock and allow researchers such as Moore to follow movements of individual birds and begin to unravel some of the mysteries of the migratory patterns of this cryptic bird.

American woodcocks require two very specific habitats. During the day, woodcocks raise their young, avoid predators and find an abundance of earthworms to eat in thickets with wet grounds. In the evening, woodcocks move to open clearcuts, farmland or pastures.

“It’s kind of interesting that a lot of the conservation for woodcocks involves clear-cutting, which is normally not what you think of when you think conservation project,” Moore says.

Range-wide population surveys since the 1960s have shown that the American woodcock population is gradually declining at a rate of about 1 percent every year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This decline over several decades is primarily due to the overall loss of forested area due to urbanization in eastern North America and the conversion of early successional forests to mature forests, according to Moore.

These open areas — known as singing grounds — are required to provide ample space for male woodcock mating displays.

These mating rituals, which take place at either dusk or dawn in winter or early spring, begin with a repetitive buzzing call by the male woodcock, called a peent. The male bird then hovers and flies in a circle 100 to 300 feet above the ground. Following its descent, the woodcock continues its mating song. Each of these processes lasts about four or five minutes, but can be repeated for over half an hour.

The woodcock may sing and dance in the fields, but the forests that they depend on for food are one of the most endangered habitat types in the Southern Appalachians, according to Pope.

“They’re one of those species that are tied to a really fragile and rare habitat,” Pope says.

American Woodcock Facts

  • They are short-legged, plump shorebirds, 10 to 12 inches long and 5 inches tall, with a broad wingspan of about 20 inches.
  • A long and flexible bill ranging from 2.5 to 2.75 inches allows them to capture creatures deep in the soil.
  • The mating ritual, called a “sky dance,” involves the male performing chirps, or peents, which transitions into a marvelous flying display where the males use their wings to create various repetitive twittering noises in their attempts to attract a mate. Watch the sky dance.
  • Nicknames for the woodcock include timberdoodle, night partridge, big-eye, bogsucker and mudbat.
  • The American woodcock is a popular game bird.
  • The woodcock’s signature sounds and dance moves have made it a bit of a YouTube sensation. Watch the woodcock rock out to Collective Soul, strut to Michael Jackson, and boogie to “Tequila” by The Champs.


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  1. Jeff Dow on March 2, 2024 at 2:15 pm

    Good day. I spotted a woodcock today while riding my motorcycle. March 2 2024. Little Hudson Lake Road. Near Dewey Oklahoma. The bird was in middle of the road. I stopped real close to the bird thinking it was injured. But it flew into the wooded area 15 feet away and disappeared. I have never seen this species of bird before. Not in Oklahoma for sure.

  2. J Martineau on February 17, 2024 at 12:47 pm

    Was out walking the dogs here in NW Greensboro, NC and as they stopped, I looked into the woods and saw one within 5 feet. Hadn’t seen anything like it and had to Google it. The dogs didn’t even know it was there for the 3 or 4 minutes I watched it so it’s survival instinct to be still works like a charm.

  3. Megan Brigham on January 23, 2024 at 2:06 pm

    I saw on today here in Pensacola, FL. We have a long wooded driveway and there he was camouflaged perfectly to the fallen leaves. His little bobbing strut was adorable.

  4. Shane on January 20, 2024 at 7:32 pm

    I saw one today in Arkansas. Got about 5 yards from it before I noticed it. Sit and just watched it for around 10 minutes before it moved off into a thicker patch of woods.

  5. D on November 30, 2023 at 11:45 am

    Found our first Woodcock today, unfortunately he was deceased. We’re the 5th generation of our family to live here and my late grandmother was an avid birdwatcher herself. I see no mention of them in her notes. We’re in North Carolina on the Guilford/Randolph county line south of Greensboro. We’re on 30 acres, 12 of which is cleared for hilly pasture, the rest is undisturbed woods with a year round creek, a couple of the wooded low-lying acres are dense and very wet year round. Thank you for the info provided. It was very interesting for our children and we now know what bird was making the call we didn’t recognize! The good news is that when we heard him calling behind our house, we heard answers near the barn, so they’re definitely here! Very exciting. Thanks again!

  6. Darlene on November 3, 2023 at 7:56 pm

    I saw a woodcock today in a wooded area near the Eno River in Northern Durham County, North Carolina. None of us had ever seen such a bird before. It was fascinating! It was hopping along the forest floor, seemingly hunting for food. Its long beak is what initially got our attention.

  7. Jolly cross on November 18, 2022 at 11:35 pm

    A woodcock hung out all day in my yard in Lepanto Arkansas. 11 18 2022. I have pictures and video. He stuck his long beak in soft earth to hunt.

  8. Terri on May 13, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    I just saw one today on our rural property in Hickory, NC…I had never saw a bird like it so had to come home and look him up.

  9. Suzanne on March 7, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    I’m reporting from CT and I just had a night encounter with this amazing creature! Its def. an American Woodcock especially judging by the unique call which I’ve been hearing for several days now. Last night and this evening something was making that crazy noise and if I got too close it flew a few feet away but didn’t leave my yard. I’ve got tons of worms due to all the rain so I’ve seen more and more birds than usual. Not sure if you have a tracking on this beautiful babies but please add Deep River, Connecticut to it if you do. 🙂
    Thank you, Suzanne M.

  10. Bill Mitchell on January 12, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    Good Day, thought you might like to know that we spotted an American Woodcock on Jan. 7, 2018 in Chocowinity, North Carolina. This is the first time we have seen him since 2011 when we spotted a male & female together. Only time in the 15 years we have lived in Chocowinity that we have seen them.

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