American WoodcockScolopax minor Gmelin
Status Common in summer, very rare in winter. Breeds. First arrivals are noted from early March to month's end (average 21 March, earliest 27 February). During summer it occurs throughout the province in swampy thickets. Major movements have been noted in October, and a few stragglers remain until January, rarely later. One successfully overwintered on Brier Island, 1963-64 (W. Lent).
Description Length: 28 cm. All plumages: A chunky bird with large eyes set high in a large head; neck thick and short; bill long and straight. Adults: Upperparts mostly cinnamon, with intricate pattern of various shades of rich browns, ashy grays, and blacks; below, a soft uniform rich cinnamon-buff; legs short and flesh-coloured. Females are considerably larger than males.
Breeding Nest: On the ground in open wooded areas such as pastures with low birches and alders, and often without any attempt at concealment, the bird depending at such times on its remarkable protective colouring; a shallow depression scraped out and then lined with dead leaves and other debris. Eggs: 4; olive-brown, flecked and blotched lightly with various shades of rufous and lavender. Laying begins in early April. Only a single brood is raised, but if the first nest is destroyed there will be another. The earliest date for a complete set is 9 April 1936, found by Israel J. Pothier near Lower Wedgeport, Yarmouth County. On 22 May 1943 I found a nest containing four fresh eggs at Black River, Kings County; the abnormally late date indicates that it may have been a second attempt. Three newly hatched young were found in a nest with one infertile egg at Black River on 14 May 1943. A nest reported by John W. Piggott near Bridgetown, Annapolis County, held four young just hatched on 29 April 1928. A half-grown young still showing much natal down was banded at Black River on 17 May 1944.
Range Breeds in eastern North America north to Newfoundland, west to southeastern Manitoba and south to the Gulf States. Winters in the southern parts of its breeding range.
Remarks The general behaviour of this bird is as erratic as its take-off when flushed, a fact to which every experienced woodcock hunter will attest. When approached, it will sometimes jump at 5-10 m distance or sometimes be nearly underfoot before taking flight. A hunting dog will usually catch the bird's scent at long range and make its characteristic "point," but sometimes the bird flushes virtually under the dog's nose, startling the dog and baffling the hunter.
Woodcocks normally migrate at night, moving across the countryside in loose, scattered congregations at low altitudes, but on 31 October 1931 I saw one in broad daylight at Black River flying overhead at an altitude of perhaps 100 m, passing out of view in a general southwesterly direction.
Evidence that they return annually to the same nesting grounds is furnished by Jack Mayer of Moncton, New Brunswick, who has had considerable experience in banding woodcock. He tagged a downy young on 9 June 1940 in a copse near his home and located a nest there the next year. As the bird flushed under his feet, he noticed she was wearing a red band. He later netted the bird on her nest and determined it was the same bird he had banded a year earlier. On 1 October 1941, he shot the banded bird while it loitered about its nest site.
Three abnormally plumaged "golden woodcock" have been taken over the years, two by myself many years ago and one by Merrill Rowding of Liverpool in early November 1949; the last bird was sent to Austin Rand, who published a detailed description (Rand 1950).
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Credits and copyright information. Last updated February 20, 1998
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