The characteristic, highly specialised bill of the American woodcock makes it supremely efficient at hunting earthworms, its primary food source (2). The tip of the bill contains numerous nerve endings that help it detect the movement of worms and other invertebrates as it probes the soil (3). Interestingly, the American woodcock may rock its body back and forth as it slowly walks on the forest floor, stepping heavily with its feet. It is possible that this behaviour may cause the earthworms to move around in the soil below, making them easier to detect (4).
Another distinguishing characteristic of the American woodcock is the elaborate courtship ritual displayed by the male to attract a female. The male American woodcock establishes a territory, called a ‘singing ground’, in an open field, where it will participate in aerial displays to attract a mate. The male begins at dusk by walking around a small area of no more than a few square metres, uttering a low, nasal ‘peent’. After some time, the male stops calling, and begins a slow, spiralling, ascent upwards to between 100 and 200 feet. During this climb, the tips of the male’s wings create a constant twittering sound, which is replaced by chirping during the rapid, zigzagging descent. The male American woodcock repeats this unusual courtship act again and again, even after mating, until well after dark (3) (6).
The American woodcock is polygynous, meaning that it mates with multiple members of the opposite sex. The male American woodcock gives no parental care once mating has occurred, and the female may visit as many as four singing grounds before nesting (2). The nests are placed on the ground (2), and the clutch usually consists of up to four eggs (3). The young American woodcock chicks need help feeding when they first hatch, though they begin probing for insects by the end of the first week (7). The chicks fledge around 15 days after hatching, and they reach full size rapidly, usually after around 30 days (3).