The American woodcock is a strange and fascinating bird. Commonly referred to as the timberdoodle, the American woodcock inhabits wet, scrubby woodlands and produces one of the greatest mating ritual feats of the avian world.
Woodcocks are about the size and shape of a pear, with a coloration that is mostly brown with some mottling. As seen in the picture, these birds blend into their surroundings very easily
. Their eyes are located very far back on their heads, allowing the timberdoodle to survey nearly 360 degrees without moving its head. A very long and narrow bill protrudes from the front of the head, giving the birds an ability to watch for predators while they forage.
The males of the species begin their display by announcing their presence with a buzzing sound that is referred to as
is onomatopoeic (if you say it, that's just what it sounds like). Taking off with dramatic whistling, the males can soar to over 200 feet in the air before dizzily spiraling to the ground in a series of acrobatic maneuvers making “kissing noises” all the way.
Any damp, brush-filled open space is likely to contain a couple of these birds, but importantly not dry meadows. Woodcocks prefer scrubby plants that contain limited ground-level clutter so they can maneuver easily as they forage for earthworms, their favorite food. A healthy mix of regenerative forests, birches and aspens, with a mostly scrubby landscape, scrub-oaks and alder, are the best places to find them.
Areas that are too open make the birds too vulnerable to hawks and other predators.
Multiple locations around Shaver’s Creek often host these birds, as the mix of moist, swampy terrain and early successional forest make for excellent habitat. The Scotia Barrens also host a multitude of locations where timberdoodles traipse.
What to Bring:
- Flashlight or headlamp if out near dark
- A refillable water bottle
- Sturdy and water-resistant footwear capable of walking on a forested path
- Long pants and high socks may be preferred for additional protection from insects and ticks
- Child carrier/backpack is recommended for very young children
- Binoculars for bird and wildlife watchers
- Pack out whatever you bring in
- Follow local rules and guidance
- Be considerate of others and keep your distance
- Stay local
As you explore, consider
how the deforestation of Pennsylvania during the 19th century resulted in a large spike in early successional forests, scrubland habitat, and the woodcock population. Today, more mature forests and the transition of farmland to urban and suburban development has resulted in significant habitat loss for the American woodcock.