Nova Scotia Hunter Safety Course


American Woodcock


Woodcock belong to the sandpiper family of shorebirds. They are known also as “timberdoodles” and wood or brush snipe. Woodcock, though birds of the upland, are migratory birds. They range throughout much of eastern North America. The highest breeding densities are found in southern Canada from Nova Scotia to Ontario. Most woodcock winter near the Gulf of Mexico.

Though chunky in appearance, woodcock rarely weigh more than 0.25 kg. Females are noticeably heavier than males.

The average length is 25 to 30 cm including a bill of about 6 cm. They have oversized eyes, no apparent neck, slender legs and long toes.

Both male and female woodcock are well camouflaged. The top of the head and the nape are dark and marked with pale vertical stripes. Snipe have horizontal stripes. Along the back, black feathers are intermixed with grey and brown. The tail is dark with a light tip and is white underneath.

In mid-April to mid-May, as fields begin to show bare patches and the ground softens, woodcock start returning to their summer range. Males claim openings or clearings to establish “singing grounds” for their spectacular courtship displays.

Woodcock nests are shallow depressions in the ground and are often found in open, second growth hardwood areas or on the edges of old fields. Four buff coloured eggs with darkbrown splotches are laid and then incubated by the female for approximately 21 days. Woodcock have a high hatching success. Woodcock raise only one brood a year. If the first nest is destroyed, renesting is common.

Chicks develop rapidly and when 25 days old, they closely resemble adults and are able to fly. Earthworms make up the bulk of the diet but woodcock also feed on insect larvae, ants, and spiders, seeds and various other parts of plants.

In autumn, woodcock are found on hillsides of young hardwood, in aspen stands, around the edges of abandoned farms, and particularly in alder covers. Because the birds require soft, moist ground to feed, local movements are influenced by rainfall. Woodcock begin to migrate with the arrival of October frosts.

Woodcock provide excellent eating and are considered by many hunters to be one of the most challenging of game birds. They blend well with their background and their flight is fast and unpredictable as they flit between alders or aspen. Though 1.5 million birds are taken each year by 450,000 or more hunters, this annual harvest has not adversely affected woodcock populations.