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Closeup of face of long-billed bird
American woodcock
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Scolopax
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Scolopax rusticola
Linnaeus, 1758
8 living species

The woodcocks are a group of seven or eight very similar living species of wading birds in the genus Scolopax. The genus name is Latin for a snipe or woodcock, and until around 1800 was used to refer to a variety of waders.[1] The English name is first recorded in about 1050.[2] According to the Harleian Miscellany, a group of woodcocks is called a "fall".[3]


The genus Scolopax was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[4] The genus name is Latin for a snipe or woodcock.[1] The type species is the Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola).[5]

Only two woodcocks are widespread, the others being localized island endemics. Most are found in the Northern Hemisphere but a few range into the Greater Sundas, Wallacea and New Guinea. Their closest relatives are the typical snipes of the genus Gallinago.[6][7] As with many other sandpiper genera, the lineages that led to Gallinago and Scolopax likely diverged around the Eocene, some 55.8–33.9 million years ago, although the genus Scolopax is only known from the late Pliocene onwards.[8]

Woodcock species are known to undergo rapid speciation in island chains, with the extant examples being the Amami woodcock in the Ryukyu Islands and the several species of woodcock in the Indonesian islands, the Philippines, and New Guinea. Subfossil evidence indicates the presence of another radiation of woodcock species in the Greater Antilles; these Caribbean woodcocks may have been more closely related to the Old World woodcock species than the New World ones, and were likely wiped out by human incursion into the region.[9]


The genus contains eight species:[10][6][11]

Fossil record

A number of woodcocks are extinct and are known only from fossil or subfossil bones.

  • "Scolopax baranensis" (fossil, Early Pliocene of Hungary; a nomen nudum)
  • Scolopax carmesinae (fossil, Early/Middle Pliocene? of Menorca, Mediterranean)
  • Scolopax hutchensi (fossil, Late Pliocene – Early Pleistocene of Florida, USA)
  • Scolopax anthonyi (prehistoric, Holocene of Puerto Rico)[9]
  • Scolopax brachycarpa (subfossil, Holocene of Hispaniola)

Description and ecology

Scolopax minor concealed in grass
American woodcock

Woodcocks have stocky bodies, cryptic brown and blackish plumage, and long slender bills. Their eyes are located on the sides of their heads, which gives them 360° vision.[12] Unlike in most birds, the tip of the bill's upper mandible is flexible.[6][13][14]

As their common name implies, the woodcocks are woodland birds. They feed at night or in the evenings, searching for invertebrates in soft ground with their long bills. This habit and their unobtrusive plumage makes it difficult to see them when they are resting in the day. Most have distinctive displays known as "roding", usually given at dawn or dusk.[6][14][11]

The range of breeding habits of the Eurasian woodcock extends from the west of Ireland eastwards across Europe and Asia preferring mostly boreal forest regions engulfing northern Japan, and also from the northern limits of the tree zone in Norway. Continuing south to the Pyrenees and the northern limits of Spain. Nests have been found in Corsica and there are three isolated Atlantic breeding stations in Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. In Asia the sites can be seen as far south as Kashmir and the Himalayas.


Some woodcocks have become popular gamebirds. The island-endemic species are often quite rare due to overhunting. The pin feathers (coverts of the leading primary feather of the wing) of the Eurasian woodcock are sometimes used by artists as brushtips for fine painting work.[15]

The cocker spaniel dog breed is named after the bird: the dogs were originally bred to hunt the woodcock.


  1. ^ a b Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 351. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. ^ "Woodcock". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ Lipton, James (1991). An Exaltation of Larks. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-30044-0.
  4. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 145.
  5. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 278.
  6. ^ a b c d Hayman, Peter; Marchant, John & Prater, Tony (1986): Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 0-395-60237-8
  7. ^ Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004). "A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28. PMC 515296. PMID 15329156. Supplementary Material
  8. ^ Finlayson, Clive (2011). Avian survivors: The History and Biogeography of Palearctic Birds. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 204. ISBN 9781408137321.
  9. ^ a b Takano, Oona; Steadman, David W. (October 2015). "A new species of Woodcock (Aves: Scolopacidae: Scolopax) from Hispaniola, West Indies" (PDF). Zootaxa. 4032 (1): 117. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4032.1.6. PMID 26624342. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-08-02. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  10. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Sandpipers, snipes, coursers". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 17 August 2021.
  11. ^ a b Kennedy, Robert S.; Fisher, Timothy H.; Harrap, Simon C.B.; Diesmos, Arvin C & Manamtam, Arturo S. (2001). "A new species of woodcock from the Philippines and a re-evaluation of other Asian/Papuasian woodcock" (PDF). Forktail. 17 (1): 1–12.
  12. ^ woodcock (bird) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2013-03-10.
  13. ^ Mousley, H. (1934). "The earliest (1805) unpublished drawings of the flexibility of the upper mandible of the woodcock's bill" (PDF). Auk. 51 (3): 297–301. doi:10.2307/4077657. JSTOR 4077657.
  14. ^ a b McKelvie, Colin Laurie (1993): Woodcock and Snipe: Conservation and Sport. Swan Hill.
  15. ^ Dowden, Joe Francis (2007). The Landscape Painter's Essential Handbook. Newton Abbot, UK: David & Charles. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7153-2501-8.
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