Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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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