Closely related to sandpipers and snipe, these birds have a relatively long life span, living for roughly 5 years. They are brown and black spotted birds with big eyes and a long, slender bill. Both sexes grow up to a foot long, but the females are actually heavier than the males, weighing in around 10 oz. (the males only tip the scales around 6 or 7).
Found in the eastern half of the US, these birds use their long bills to feed on earthworms, grubs and other insects by probing the ground at dawn and dusk. (They also eat berries and leaves.) Woodcocks don’t like the heat much, so after they feed they rush off to escape the sun, holing up under various trees to soak up the shade.
They are polygamous creatures and have a rather involved mating process. The male begins by making a buzzing sound (called peenting) and walking around while bobbing his head up and down. He then takes off and begins flying around in ever-tightening circles until he is high above the ground, and then he spins back to the ground while singing out to the females.
These birds prefer wooded areas with sufficient amounts of alders and aspen because these areas provide them with a lot of shade and softer ground, the better in which to dig for worms. And as with the mourning dove, these birds head south after the first frost, flying away at night.
An easy way to know if woodcocks are close is to see if there are chalky white marks on the ground, remains of their whitewash. These spots don’t last long because they wash away easily in rain, so if it is still visible it means a woodcock recently put it there.
They prefer to hold tight rather than running away when they sense danger, and have a frantic, jagged flight pattern similar to the mourning dove. They never fly far once flushed, often just a few hundred yards, and take off almost vertically, rising very quickly through the air. (This is why so many hunters shoot below them. Correct this by aiming higher than normal.) They typically don’t flush more than once, despite their short flights, and most hunters consider a 20 or 28-gauge shotgun the best bet, using size 8 field loads.
This bird is found all over North and Central America and looks very similar to the woodcock. Unlike that bird, though, the snipe prefers wetter areas to roost in. They weigh half as much as the woodcock, but consume the same foods, using their beaks to poke around for worms, grubs and other insects.