Jos Ashpole

Nature's Home reader Christine Barker sent us this photo of a beautiful woodcock sheltering in her daughter's garden.

Woodcock - image by Christine Barker

Christine says: “It spent a little time finding food on the lawn, but mostly kept still, eyes alert, under the bushes. It had flown away by the next morning.”

Secretive woodland dwellers

Woodcocks are elusive birds. As you can see from the photo, they have a mottled-brown appearance that acts as camouflage when they rest motionless on the ground amongst leaves. The patterns and colours might remind you of the nightjar’s fantastic camouflage. Woodcocks are found in forestry, damp woodlands and heathlands.
These birds are mainly active at dawn or dusk, a term called ‘crepuscular’. They use their long bill to probe into soft ground on the hunt for food such as earthworms. Their eyes are set high up on the head which gives them 360° vision to look out for predators.

Welcome winter visitors

Woodcocks breed in the UK during the summer months. Most of these birds are resident throughout the year; however, come the winter, they are joined by migrating woodcocks from Scandinavia and Russia. These woodcocks travel great distances to escape icy winters further north and east and make the most of the UK’s relatively mild winter climate. Frozen ground makes it very difficult for woodcocks to feed.

Guiding the goldcrest

Folklore speaks of the as the goldcrest as the woodcock’s pilot. It was believed that tiny goldcrests hitched a ride on woodcocks to cross the North Sea. This is down to the fact that goldcrests and woodcocks are often seen arriving on the east coast of the UK at the same time – their movements both triggered by colder conditions abroad.

A privilege to see

Although they’re not particularly small, woodcocks can be very difficult to spot. You are only likely to come across them during the day if you startle them from their hiding places on the woodland floor. When they are startled you might hear a clatter of their wings and probably see a flash of their reddish rump as they fly up before settling to the ground when they find a new hiding place in the undergrowth.

Woodcock - image by Stanley Porter

This woodcock is incredibly well camouflaged among the dead leaves of the forest floor - image by Stanley Porter (rspb-images.com)

There are two times you might see them in gardens, however, or even in city centres. Woodcocks migrate at night and have a habit of colliding with windows or tall buildings. They’re sometimes found on the ground the next morning, dazed but alive. In extremely harsh winters, they can also be driven into more urban areas in their search for food.

But it’s still a privilege to see one in your own garden! Have you come across any of these special birds lately?

Remember to register for the RSPB Bird Garden Birdwatch - you might not get a visiting woodcock but who knows what else might turn up!

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For more on reserves, visit our Reserves A-Z and head over to our Bird A-Z for identification and behaviour information. Email: natureshome@rspb.org.uk

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