American Woodcock

Scolopax minor
An American Woodcock specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (11 inches), decidedly un-sandpiper-like sandpiper, the American Woodcock is most easily identified by its large head and body, mottled-brown back, buff breast, and long bill. This species bears a passing resemblance to Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata), but may be separated from that species by its shorter legs, larger eyes, and warmer-toned body. Male and female American Woodcocks are similar in all seasons. The American Woodcock breeds across much of the eastern United States and southern Canada from Ontario south to central Florida and from Newfoundland west to Kansas. In winter, this species withdraws from interior and northern portions of its breeding range, expanding southward into southern Florida, the Gulf Coast, and eastern Texas and Oklahoma, where this species does not breed. American Woodcocks are present all year in portions of the southeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Unlike other sandpipers, American Woodcocks inhabit open woodland habitats, such as forests with clearings or forests abutting overgrown meadows. This species utilizes similar habitat types all year. American Woodcocks primarily eat small invertebrates, such as insects and earthworms. Although this species is relatively common in its breeding and winter ranges, male American Woodcocks are most easily seen performing spiraling courtship flights just after sunset or before sunrise. However, this species is often difficult to see up-close due to its low profile and excellent camouflage. Birdwatchers walking in open woodland may notice American Woodcocks only after they flush from the undergrowth a few feet away. This species is most active at dawn or dusk, when it may be identified by its buzzing “beezp” call.

DC Information

Summer resident, early March to late November. Fairly uncommon in spring but relatively common locally in late summer. Breeds from late February to April in marshy brush and fields. The sexes are alike in plumage.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31011 Scolopax minor (American Woodcock)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31012 Scolopax minor (American Woodcock)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC51754 Scolopax minor (American Woodcock)