New York City Birdwatcher’s Companion: American Woodcock

This post is an excerpt from the New York City Birdwatcher’s Companion.

American Woodcock New York City

Natural History
The American woodcock is an eccentric bird that frequents woodlands and riverbanks. This animal has a rusty, leaf-like plumage to camouflage with the forest floor. Its eyes are set toward the back of its head, to leave room for a long beak to probe into underbrush for feeding. The arrangement of the woodcock’s brain is an anomaly amongst birds, because the cerebellum is rotated backwards and placed at the back of the skull near the spinal column. The woodcock’s beady, oddly-placed eyes are optimal for nighttime foraging and peripheral vision to spot predators. When browsing for food on the ground, the head remains stationary while the bird bobs its body forward and back. The woodcock can eat its weight in earthworms in a single day. During mating season, the male performs a spectacular spiraling display after popping out of the underbrush.

Urban History
Common names for the American woodcock include the timberdoodle, bog sucker, mud bat, mud snipe, and labrador twister. Traditionally the woodcock is a game bird but has been spotted in Central Park. Woodcocks will venture through New York City along their migration path, but their unconventional eye placement makes them susceptible to flying into windows. Wild Bird Fund, a non-profit bird rehabilitation center on the Upper West Side, rescued a woodcock that flew into a Starbucks storefront. The staff members kept the bird in a separate room because of its rambunctious leaping displays. Other rescue sites include Rockefeller Center, Grand Central, and the revolving doors at the MoMA.

Woodcock Identification Tips

Identification Tips
– Round body with long bill and large head
– Orange breast with speckled brown back
– Bobs up and down when walking

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