Animals

Eurasian Woodcock

by Marcia Malory

The Eurasian woodcock is a wading bird that lives in deciduous forests.

The woodcock's habitat must include dry areas where the woodcock can nest and wet areas where it can feed. Such a wet area could be a patch of ground that has been kept damp by seepage from an underground spring.

Woodcocks also need a broken canopy and open glades for their mating displays.

Eurasian woodcock, photo by Ronald SIThe Eurasian woodcock's mottled brown feathers allows it to camouflage itself against dead leaves or bracken (a type of fern).

If a Eurasian woodcock is approached, it will remain completely immobile, which makes it hard to spot. It will fly away only if the potential threat is a few feet, or a few inches, away.

The Eurasian woodcock's beak is long in proportion to its body. It has pale bars on its head that run from side to side.

Worms are the Eurasian woodcock's main food. It probes wet soil for earthworms and insect larvae. Its beak has a swollen tip with many sensitive nerve endings that help it recognize its prey.

The top half of its beak has long, flexible nasal bones. The woodcock can pull them back, enabling the tip of the beak to open, allowing it to swallow its food while filtering out any mud.

Eurasian woodcocks sometimes also eat seeds and other plant matter.

Mating and Breeding

Male Eurasian woodcocks perform a courtship display flight that is known as roding.

At either dusk or dawn, a male woodcock will patrol a long, regular circuit across the forests open glades. Sometimes he will be accompanied by one or two other male woodcocks.

As he flies, he will give out three croaks, similar to the three croaks of a frog, followed by a whistling noise.

Nests are built early in March. A nest is usually a hole scraped in the ground among leaf litter (dead and decaying leaves that have fallen to the forest floor), near the base of a tree. It is lined with leaves.

Eurasian woodcocks usually have three to five eggs in a clutch.

Eggs are off-white with brown or red-brown markings that help to camouflage them against the forest floor.

The female incubates the eggs by herself.

Once they are a few hours old, the chicks can leave the nest for short periods.

Chicks feed themselves from birth, with their mothers watching over them.

Many observers claim to have seen a woodcock flying while carrying a chick between its legs.

Some say that the parent is helping a chick return to its nests.

Others say that the woodcock is trying to distract predators from the chicks.