The Waterman and Hill-Traveller's Companion, a Natural Events Almanac
February
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01 - American Woodcocks Return

Scolopax minor

Every once in a while someone sends a report of Kiwis wandering our local forests. What they've invariably glimpsed is an American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) hunting for its food. These extremely shy, long-billed, well-camouflaged and compact game birds are odd-looking little creatures. And since they feed on worms (like the completely unrelated Kiwi) that they unearth from the forest floor (also like the Kiwi) they've adopted a similar form.

Woodcocks are shorebirds that have made the transition to life in the forest. These largely nocturnal birds roost in swampy lowland thickets during the day, foraging there as well when it's light. At night they move to upland meadows and open forests where they probe the ground for earthworms and other invertebrates. In the spring they perform a weird aerial display and call from hilltops at night — presumably for mating purposes.

Needless to say relatively little is known about this bird — particularly for our area. In southern Illinois they're a relatively common migratory species in the spring but otherwise are rarely seen here. This could be because they're very effectively camouflaged and freeze when alarmed becoming almost impossible to see. But it could also be because they actually are rare due to lack of suitable habitat. While there's a fall hunting season for this species in Illinois I know of no one in this area who actively hunts them.



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Copyright © 2006 Jim Jung