The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Landowner Guide shares some great information about the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor):
Michigan serves as an important breeding ground for woodcock … Numbers in Michigan and other Midwestern states increased dramatically after many old growth forests were cut during the 100-year period from about 1830 to 1930. The last woodcock population peak occurred in the 1950’s. During the past 30 years, woodcock numbers have seen a steady decline. Since 1968, the number of singing males in spring has declined an average of 1.3 percent per year. Since 1985, the loss is even greater, an average of 2.8 percent per year. Hunting the birds seems to have little impact on overall numbers in the breeding population. Most experts agree that habitat loss and degradation are key reasons for the decline.
Although some people confuse woodcock with their close cousin, the snipe, the birds are separate species that belong to the sandpiper family. Unlike others in its family, woodcock prefer uplands. Woodcock are forest birds known for their erratic flight patterns and unusual spring displays by the males.
A Senecan myth says God made the woodcock from the leftover parts of other birds. Large eyes are located along the sides of the bird’s head, allowing it to see in all directions, including directly behind. A long, thin bill that averages nearly three inches in length permits woodcock to probe in soft earth for worms, slugs and other invertebrates. Nostrils lie high against the skull so the woodcock can feed and breathe at the same time. Its ears are located beneath the eyes. Woodcock stand about eight inches tall, appear to bob when they walk, and weigh about a half-pound each.
Woodcock need young-growth forests with openings for reproduction; especially in the upper Midwest where the forests are growing older. This process of natural succession is a key reason for habitat degradation, but prime cover is also lost to roads, houses, croplands, and other human developments.
Head over to the DNR to learn how interested landowners can help by creating or improving Woodcock habitat on their property & learn more about the woodcock and its derogatory names on All About Birds.
See more in Bruce’s Michigan Parks 2022 gallery on Flickr.