Timberdoodles Still Sticking Around

Today when I was out doing a little scouting for the upcoming deer season next week I happened upon one of the more encouraging sights I’ve seen in the woods lately. As I walked through an area that was quite muddy with a mix of corn/woods, I flushed up several Timberdoodle, or American Woodcock, as they are commonly named.

At first glance I was surprised to still see woodcock as you wouldn’t normally expect them flittering about as the calendar is about to turn to the month of November. Then I quickly thought about the mud I was walking through and figured this had to be a prime area for these probe-feeding birds. In most years the woodcock would be migrating out of Minnesota as soon as the first few frosts begin turning the ground hard. This year, that just hasn’t been the case quite yet.

The woodcock is an interesting bird because it has a voracious appetite for worms. In fact, it dines almost exclusively on worms using its long probe of a beak to snatch its prey from several inches deep. This proficient little worm gatherer will often dine on nearly its own weight in worms each day of its life. Then when the ground becomes hard or dry…and worm gathering becomes difficult, the bird tends to move on to new areas.

The woodcock has long been considered by the experts to be an indicator species in the woods. Indicator meaning that usually when you observe a woodcock it means the local environment is in relatively good health. When chemicals and land practices start affecting its food source, you simply will not see many woodcock frequent a given area. Therefore, if you develop land practices that encourage the existence of woodcock you are likely also taking measures to be good stewards of the land.

I enjoy seeing woodcock because they seem to have a tendency to flush almost in front of your face. While many game birds will flush and be out of gun range within a few split seconds…the woodcock gives you a true sporting chance. Now that doesn’t mean, however, they are an easy bird to bag. Typically this chunky-appearing bird will launch itself airborne and flutter off for only a short distance…and it doesn’t always do so in a straight line, either.

I also enjoy listening to the sound of a woodcock when it takes to flight. The rapidly beating wings almost make the bird sound like its whistling, or at least making a buzzing type sound. But this is a bird that is truly famous in the springtime for its romantic “kissing” sounds and the aerial acrobatic courtship ritual. Perhaps this is why some people call the American Woodcock the “Whistledoodle.”

I suspect that most of the woodcock hunting in Minnesota is done incidental to hunting other species. As I think back over my sporting career, I cannot think of any hunter who proclaimed to me that he was going out Timberdoodle hunting exclusively. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen…but I can suggest it doesn’t occur with large masses of people each fall here in Minnesota…not like in the southern states during the winter months where hunting woodcock is quite popular.

I can honestly say I have never shot or even shot at a woodcock while out in the fields pursuing my sporting interests. I guess it’s one of those game birds for which I have not developed much of a hunting passion. Nevertheless, when I happen upon a woodcock I do very much admire the uniqueness of this game animal. It just dawned on me that seeing a woodcock this late in the season can be an indicator for one other thing…that being what a wet and warm fall season we’ve obviously been experiencing here in southeastern Minnesota.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.