Nature Bulletin No. 123 September 27, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
The woodcock formerly was one of our most important game birds
because of its fine flesh and because it is so difficult a target. When
flushed, it rises almost vertically and then darts away in a whistling
twisting night. Thirty years ago it was believed to be almost extinct in
these north central states but now it is increasing in numbers. It is still
protected and may not be hunted in Illinois but in many states there is
an open season of 15 days during the fall migration.
In recent years woodcock nests, on the ground, crude and almost
indistinguishable from their surroundings, have been observed by our
naturalists in various forest preserves; and this summer several of
these birds have been seen.
The woodcock is a good-sized chunky russet-colored member of the
snipe family, a shore bird that nests in and frequents nearby thickets
and woodlands. In daytime it hides, motionless, in these thickets
where its markings and coloring make it practically invisible. Unless it
flushes, only the keenest woodsman may detect it, and then only by its
large handsome eyes set high in its head.
It is also called the "bog sucker" and the "mud snipe" because it feeds
in wet meadows and on the shores of swamps and ponds where,
usually at night, it probes vigorously for grubs and earthworms with its
long flexible bill.
Known to arrive in the Chicago area in March and early April, and
seen here until October or early November, the comings and goings
and habits of the woodcock are incompletely understood as yet. This
we do know: in spring an elaborate courtship is carried on at dawn and
at dusk, at chosen areas called "peenting grounds" because of the nasal
"peent" like call of the male. In his courtship night the male soars
spirally to a height of 200 or 300 feet and then plunges down in a
series of zigzag swoops, uttering bursts of ecstatic warbling song.
Competent observers maintain that the young are frequently carried
from place to place by the mother who clasps them between her legs
and her body, or with her feet. If so, she is the only bird known to fly
carrying her helpless young.
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Update: June 2012