Scientific name: Scolopax rusticola
Appearance: The Woodcock is a pigeon-sized wading bird sometimes referred to as the ‘snipe of the woods’. It has short pinky-brown legs and a long, tapering bill. Its plumage is a mixture of brown, cream or buff and black, variously patterned in stripes and mottling, with a barred breast providing perfect camouflage in its woodland habitat. In flight, its rufous rump is visible.
Size: Length 33 – 38 cm; wingspan 55 – 65 cm. Males are much larger than females.
Call: During the breeding season display flights - ‘roding’ - are accompanied by 3 or 4 grunted or growling notes followed by a short, high-pitched explosive sound ‘wart wart wart-wart pissp’.
Natural history: Woodcock are crepuscular birds being most active at dawn and dusk. They feed on mainly earthworms and beetles which they find by probing the ground with their bill. They breed in moist woodland which may be either deciduous or mixed but must have moist soil and some undergrowth. They nest on the ground and line the cup of the nest with dead leaves and other plant material. The female lays one or two cream eggs with light brown and grey blotches, she does all the incubating. The young are precocial (relatively mature at hatching) and leave the nest immediately, fledging after 15 – 20 days.
Woodcock have been hunted and eaten since Roman times. Its pin feathers (at the base of the leading primary on each wing) were used widely for various purposes including drawing the gold stripe down the side of a Rolls-Royce car.
Image by Ronald Slabke - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0