woodcock defined in 1930 yearwoodcock - Woodcock;
woodcock - Upper plumage reddish brown barred and vermiculated with black; under parts wood-brown with darker brown bars. Length, fourteen inches. Sexes alike.
The woodcock is a large species compared with other snipes, and a very handsome bird in its russet-red plumage, prettily pencilled and barred with various shades of black and brown and grey; furthermore, it is in great esteem for the table, and it is therefore not strange that, like the red grouse, it should be a favourite alike with the ornithologist, the sportsman, and the lover of delicate fare.
Nocturnal in its habits, the woodcock spends the daylight hours in close concealment in woods and brakes, often under the shelter of a thick evergreen bush, and, it is said, sometimes partially covering itself with dead leaves. Its red and mottled plumage, which so closely assimilates in colour to the fallen leaves among which it sits, is its best protection - a similar case to that of the nightjar crouching on the dry, open common. Visible it may be, but not distinguishable as a bird amid such surroundings unless the large, lustrous black eyes are caught sight of. When flushed during daylight its flight is owl-like, and its appearance somewhat singular. In the dusk of evening, when seeking its feeding-ground, it flies in a curious manner, darting rapidly this way and that through the glades and open spaces. It obtains its food by probing deep in the soft, damp soil, or in bogs, with its long bill, but how it finds the earthworms and grubs on which it feeds would be hard to say. There is no doubt that the end of the beak is an exquisitely delicate organ of touch, but it is hard to believe that it is thrust deep into tho soil merely on the chance of finding something edible.
The woodcock breeds in suitable localities throughout Great Britain and Ireland, but in limited numbers, and not very regularly; but whether the birds that breed with us remain all the year, or migrate to more southern latitudes in autumn, is not known. Most, if not all, of the birds that winter in our islands are visitors from northern Europe. They begin to arrive, chiefly on the east and south-east coasts, about the middle of October, travelling by night, usually in calm, hazy, or foggy weather, and sometimes arriving in immense numbers. As a rule the females arrive first, the later flights being composed of males. It is only when migrating that woodcock are seen in any number together, and at such times their gatherings are probably accidental. On their arrival they quickly scatter over the country, and for the rest of the time are solitary in their habits. The migrants from the north take their departure in March. In this country nesting begins at the end of that month, and in the pairing season the male woos his mate with a curious and pretty performance, not at all like the wild celestial love- antics of his relation, the common snipe. For a time he abandons his shy, skulking habits - a hermit in love, he comes out morning and evening, and for the space of half an hour continues flying to and fro, with a singularly slow flight, and with plumage puffed out, so that he looks twice his ordinary size. Flying, he emits two peculiar notes, one deep and hollow, the other sharp and whistling. This performance of the woodcock is called ' roding ' in East Anglia. The nest is a slight hollow, placed among dead ferns and fallen leaves in a sheltered situation in a wood. The eggs are four, pale yellowish white, the larger end spotted and blotched with ash-grey and brown of a reddish yellow tint.
A little over a century ago it was discovered that the female woodcock had the habit of removing its young, one at a time, when in danger by flying away with them. But it was said that the young bird was carried in the bill of its parent, and ornithologists declined to believe it, because, as Gilbert White remarked, the long, unwieldy beak of the woodcock was unfitted for such a task. The matter remained in doubt until about twenty years ago; and it is now known that the bird carries her young with her feet, either grasping them in her claws or holding them pressed between her thighs. According to some observers, the bird uses her bill to keep her young one pressed firmly against her thighs when flying with it.
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