Woodcock drawing

Plan Your Own American Woodcock Adventure


Gather friends or family to observe the woodcock’s amazing spring courtship display

In the Northeast, one of the first signs of spring is the appearance of the American Woodcock—a curiously entertaining bird that provides many opportunities to reflect on how culture, conservation, biodiversity, habitat, climate and ecology are all critically connected. And it’s easy to find woodcock showing off—if you know where to look. 


An American Woodcock resting on a log.

Plan your outing for an early evening from March 15 to May 30 for the best chance at observing these birds. Ideally a night with a bright moon for the best viewing.  Woodcocks stay hidden most of the day—you’ll want to plan your outing to start just before dusk so you can find a good patch.  If you need a light, use  a red-light or green-light flashlights which are easier on nocturnal wildlife. Bring something to sit on.

In Cambridge, you are most likely to find woodcocks at Lusitania Field near Fresh Pond or at Alewife Reservation near the parking lot on the north side. Occasionally you can also find woodcocks at Magazine Beach and Danehy Park, but these locations can be less reliable. 

A little further afield in Belmont, Rock Meadow is a great place to find many woodcock, as are the fields at Habitat. Arlington’s Great Meadow, the Fells, and Arlington reservation. Woodcock have even been spotted in Boston Common.

Look for an open grassy field with bushy, scrubby edges and listen carefully for a peent. You can play a recording here of peening here. It is a funny nasal sound that seems like it could have been a sound effect from a children’s cartoon or a frog.

As the peenting gets louder and faster keep your ears open for a different whirring sound and look up. Pick a night with a bright moon or you might not be able to see it. But even if you can’t see these them in the dark, you can still hear it and it is no less impressive.

Woodcock usually start and finish their display  in the same place, so if you’re most likely you might see one right after it lands.

The birds will do their dance repeatedly well into the night. If you are in a big field, you may have several displaying woodcocks to observe.

The Bird Made from Leftovers

The Timberdoodle. The Bog Sucker. The Hocompoke. The Mud Rocket. The Dood. The Labrador Twister. The Night Patridge. And the Brush Snipe.  Whatever you call it the American Woodcock is a true sign of spring in New England.

The Seneca people liked to say that the woodcock was from the leftover parts of other birds. And it’s true. It doesn’t look like its parts go together.

The latin name for these birds is Scolopax Minor. All the scolopax birds are sandpipers (also known as shorebirds). Woodcocks, though, are forest sandpipers.

The best woodcock habitat is young hardwood forest  not too far from water, with a thick  carpet of leaf litter on the ground—but not too deep. They also need access to about at least a 1/4 acre of semi-open space. Such a space might be created by wildfire, a large tree falling over,  or by human activity like farming. These open spaces serve as woodcock singing grounds. 

Woodcock bill


Woodcocks probe leaf litter for worms and larva. Decomposing leaf litter on the forest floor is full of all the essential stuff that native plants and trees need to grow and provides habitat for all kinds of critters.

But invasive earthworms from Europe and Asia break up the decomposing top layer and cause leaching. The organic matter decomposes too quickly, and nutrients become inaccessible to young plants. This makes it hard for young forests to become mature forests, and it also releases more carbon into the atmosphere. In fact, earthworms may be contributing to global warming as they extend their range northward.

Woodcocks help some by eating worms—they easily eat their own weight in earthworms every day. But  the impact of earthworms on northern forest may be irreversible.

Human can help by not buying worms for fishing, and by choosing sustainable energy and using less energy  over all


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