A short-legged wading bird, the woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) inhabits woodlands and heathlands. These birds are moderately large at 35cm in length. They boast mottled plumage which provides impressive camouflage in the leaf litter and so ensures that woodcocks are hard to spot. They are mostly brown, with a pattern of black and grey barring and they have longs bills.
When disturbed, woodcocks fly up to the trees, zigzagging in flight, before dropping back to the ground.
What is the woodcock’s population and distribution?
Woodcocks are found throughout the UK, except for southwest England. Roughly 55,000 pairs are residents all year-round and these are joined by some 1.5m migrants from Russia and Finland in the winter months.
Woodcocks have adapted to living in both deciduous and coniferous forest. Surveys suggest that the range of the woodcock has declined by 29% since 1972. The significant population decline that has been noted may have been caused by recreational disturbance of woodlands, browsing by deer and declining woodland management. The woodcock is now red-listed as a species of serious conservation concern.
What do woodcocks eat?
Woodcocks are crepuscular birds, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk. They eat by probing damp ground with their bills to find meals of worms, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, fly larvae and small snails.
Where do woodcocks nest?
These camouflaged birds nest in small depressions in the ground. Hens usually lay four eggs and incubation begins only after the final egg is laid. Chicks hatch after 19-22 days. The male plays no part in selecting a nest site, incubating eggs, or rearing the young. Woodcock chicks are precocial, meaning that the chicks are well-developed at birth and can leave the nest withing a few hours of hatching.
Did you know?
The Woodcock's feathers were prized by artists who used them as fine brush tips. The feathers were also used to remove dust from people’s eyes.