WOODCOCK, any of several birds, par ticularly certain snipe-like birds of the family Sculopaciddr. The American woodcock, duck snipe, bog-sucker, big-headed snipe, mud snipe, etc., as this bird is variously named by gunners. is the l'itilohelo minor of ornithologists. The body is full and robust; the wings short and rounded; the head and eyes very large, and the bill straight; tapering from the stout base, grooved for nearly the entire length and ex ceedingly sensitive at the end; there is prac tically no gape; the ear is situated beneath the eye; the legs are very short for a snipe and the tibia are fully feathered.. The woodcock is 10 or 12 inches long and weighs from seven to nine ounces, the females being the larger. The. colors.are a soft harmonious blending of vari ous shades of brown and gray, with black mottling above, nearly uniform pale brown below. Except that it invades Ontario and other southern provinces of Canada the wood cock seldoms ventures beyond the limits of the eastern half of the United States at any season. In winter it migrates to the South Atlantic and Gulf States, but most of them breed in the central and northern States. Migration north ward begins very early and many of the more hardy individuals reach the Middle and New England States in early March before the frost has left theground_ .‘t such times, and also in the late fall. they secure their food, con sisting of insects and their Una, snails. etc., ty turning over fallen leaves, but during the slimmer and whenever the ground is sulfa coraly soft they probe it with their long sen 'lose bills and with great skill extract the earthworms which constitute their chief food. and of which enormous quantities are con sumed The) frequent hies and swampy places alone alder crown str,arns, hillside springs, etc., durst .t the summer; kit in the autumn forsake thr..c cos ens for cornfields and the under growth rf loss wood, the surest indication of their b, vie their pertorations in the soot ,Arth I lid, are more uncertain in the choice of their feeding grounds, changing from high to low as the weather varies from wet to dry. Their solitary habits are no doubt the result of the character of their favorite food, to obtain which they not infrequently search city lawns after nightfall As the large size of the eye suggests, the woodcock is cre puscular and nocturnal, the period of its great est activity being in the hours immediately suc ceeding sunset and preceding dawn. though. especially when moonlight, it may be abeoad throughout the night. During the day rt re mains hidden in deep bogs and thickets, rising only when forced and then springing perpendic ularly above the bushes it flies to an irregular course for a short distance and drops as sad denly to the ground and its ooncealnaent.
Mating takes place as soon as the sexes meet in the spring and is followed in April or even earlier by the building of a simple nest of leaves and grass in a dry and well concealed spot in a bog. Four or sometimes five bud or clay-colored eggs variously spotted with dart brown and lilac are laid, and after three weeks of incubation yield the fluffy, brownish-white young, which at once leave the nest led ts the old birds to the feeding grounds. The lose
antics and nuptial flights of the male are ca rious and interesting. In the former he is a diminutive of a turkey cock; in the latter be mounts in the darkness of night on swift wing high in the air abose a wet meadow, then falls like a shot with a whistling sound as the air rushes through his tail and wing-quills He has also a simple whistling vocal note The female especially is very solicitous in the cart of her young and not only feigns injury in order to entice an intruder from their vicinity. but frequently has been observed to bear them one by one between her thighs to a place of safety. Later in the summer the members of 3 family scatter to feed singly in their home-bog and with the advance of fall seek the above described. Ysith the coming frosts most of the woodcock leave for the South and become concentrated in favorite bot toms along the lower Mississippi and other sections of the Gulf States. There and at this time the outrageous practice of fire-hunting is indulged in, chiefly by negroes and market hunt ers. One person bears a torch which lights the ground and confuses the birds which are often killed in great numbers by a second per son with gun or club as they crouch confused on the earth. It is to this practice, as well as to the equally to be condemned spring and early summer shooting still permitted in of the northern States, that the almost threat ened extinction of this fine herd in many parts of the country is to be largely traced. Amami natural enemies of • the woodcock are minks, hawks, owls, red squirrels, cats and snakes Next to the quail the woodcock is probably the most popular game bird of the rasters. United States. and deserved]. so, but its rasp lers hale greatly decreased since about lflU To save it all gunners should unite in ing spring and summer shooting in strietigg the great destruction which takes place in the Gulf States during the minter tic the prohibition of fire-hunting and similar barbarous methods. In every vesper fall hunting is the most delightful sport and the birds arc then in the best cundttion fur the table. Most gunners prefer a cocker or other spaniel for flushing the birds from thick coverts and much the same style of gun and ammunition as quail shooting requires. The successful woodcock shooter must be a quick and steady shot, for these birds are as change able as the Wilson's snipe in their moods, and their coverts offer greater difficulties. When shooting in cornfields the gunner sometimes stands on an elevated platform so that he can overlook the stalks among which his dogs are quartering.
The European woodcock, which occasion ally occurs in this country, is a much larger bird and belongs to the genus Scolopax, which has long pointed wings, in which the outer primaries arc neither much shortened nor at tenuated. Its color is a brown of various shades, of darkest hue on the back, while the tail is black above, tipped with gray. Their habits are very similar to those of the Ameri can kind. Consult Lewis, 'American Sports man' (Philadelphia 1868); Fisher, 'Year book,' United States Department of Agricul ture for 1901.