Spring is a time of new life and re-growth. During the migration season, many of us are looking up into the trees to admire the beautiful colours of the songbirds that are returning to the park…few of us think to look down into the leaf litter for migrating birds!

 While out in the marsh trail searching for Fox snakes last week, Rondeau staff were a little startled to notice that they were standing in the middle of an American Woodcock family. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Woodcock, they are small, chunky members of the Sandpiper family with very unique features! Woodcock have very long bills which they use to probe the soil for earthworms (which make up about 60% of their diet). Their large eyes are set well back and high on the sides of their heads allowing them to basically see in all directions while their nose is buried in the ground. Woodcock ears are located between the eyes and bill, helping them to focus on the faint sounds of their prey. The leaf litter that covers the forest floor is the perfect backdrop to their mottled brown feathers – making them really hard to see!

The only time that Woodcock are conspicuous is early in the spring while the males are busy attracting mates. Males will move to open areas just after sunset and perform courtship flights where they spiral high into the night sky. As the wind moves through specialized feathers, a twittering sound is produced. After reaching a height of around 300 ft. they fall lightly to the ground and begin the process again.

 The eggs are laid in a shallow depression in the leaf litter. Woodcock young are precocial, meaning they are able to leave the nest just a few hours after hatching. Chicks quickly learn to “freeze” when threatened or in response to an alarm call given by the female – which is exactly why we didn’t see them until we were standing right beside them. So while in Rondeau, pay extra close attention to the forest floor and you will be surprised at what you see!

 Look closely at the photo below and see if you can spot the Woodcock!


American Woodcock hiding in the leaf litter


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