Thursday, February 11, 2010


…Survival still in doubt.

American Woodcock. Earthworm gourmand. Alive Thursday afternoon. Tomorrow? Saturday? Next week? There’s no clear ground anywhere on my two and a half acres that I can see. Perhaps it will find some under the bushes it bobbled off to soon after I took this photo.

I have heard woodcock displaying in the yard on Valentine’s Day in the past, looking for mates. This one will be lucky to live until Valentine’s Day this year. From The Birder’s Handbook*: "Eats more than its weight in earthworms daily; if unavailable, consumes other soil invert[ebrate]s."

We have a base population of woodcocks throughout Cape May County, but deeply frozen and snowy winters hit them hard. Sometimes the best places to actually see this elusive shorebird (although found in meadows and woodlands, it is in the "shorebird" family) is when the ground freezes up and they are forced to feed in the slightly warmer, thawed earth along the shoulders of roads. (And yes, that does pose another obvious threat to their survival.)

This is only the second woodcock I have ever actually seen so clearly. The first was a bird trying to hide in a small garden under a window at a nature center where I once worked, found by a co-worker with a good eye—and perhaps a good bit more luck! Leaf litter camouflage doesn’t work so well on white snow, however; that’s how I spotted this one: by the sun glinting off a fluff ball, the color of which I couldn’t immediately place.

I still have two Carolina Wrens about the yard as well—another species considered less winter-hardy than some. At least one wren is from the pair who laid claim this past summer to the nest box seen in the photo from my south deck; I was thrilled to see it pop into the box yesterday evening just before sunset. There’s a downy woodpecker roosting in the nest box in my front yard; she moved in almost as soon as I put up the box this past fall. If you take down nest boxes "off season"—please reconsider! Cavities are used by birds for more than nesting…

* The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds by Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye, 1988. My most favorite reference book. A must-have for anyone even remotely interested in birds, it goes the step beyond a field guide to give you detailed feeding and breeding information in a quick and easy format for, as the title states, all North American bird species.