These little American woodcock chicks are my cutest find so far this spring. The woodcock is actually in the shorebird family, but it doesn’t occupy the typical habitat of its coastal cousins. It lives in shrubby old fields and very young forests, and ranges over the eastern US and southeastern Canada, as you can see here.
I happened upon this nest while traversing a wide swath of brush sandwiched between a cornfield and a pond. Suddenly, a bird exploded from under my nose, and there at my feet were these two sweet little chicks. Notice how well camouflaged they are.
The mother must have been brooding the chicks when I startled her. Her sudden take off must have sent one of the chicks rolling – the one in the photos lying belly up with its feet up in the air. Not wanting to stress out this little family, I snapped 3 photos and hurried away. Of course, now I regret not staying just a few minutes longer to get some better shots…
A prehensile bill
One of the giveaways to the identity of a woodcock chick is its long bill. See the adult bird here. These birds use their long bills to probe for earthworms, which make up a large part of their diet. In fact, the upper portion of the bill is prehensile – its flexibility makes it more efficient in finding and harvesting worms.
Woodcock decline and conservation challenges
Like many birds, the woodcock is in decline. Its population has dropped about 1% per year since the 1960’s, and the reason is loss of brushy habitat. The solution would be to create brushy habitat, but there are a few stumbling blocks to that:
- Public disapproval of clear-cutting forest, which is the best way to create shrubland habitat.
- Non-native invasive shrubs tend to establish in clear cuts, and removing them and restoring native shrubs is extremely expensive.
The brushy area where I found this nest was indeed comprised largely of invasive multiflora rose and honeysuckle. But the woodcocks didn’t seem to mind.