Bird Identification – Woodcock – Blind, Wall-eyed, Mud, Bigheaded, Wood, And Whistling Snipe – Bog-sucker – Bogbird – Timber Doodle
Whenever you see little groups of clean-cut holes dotted over the earth in low, wet ground, you may know that either the woodcock or Wilson’s snipe has been there probing for worms. Not even the woodpecker’s combination tool is more wonderfully adapted to its work than the bill of these snipe, which is a long, straight boring instrument, its upper half fitted with a flexible tip for hooking the worm out of its hole as you would lift a string out of a jar on your hooked finger. Down goes the bill into the mud, sunk to the nostrils; then the upper tip feels around for its slippery victim. You need scarcely hope to see the probing performance because earth-worms, like mice, come out of their holes after dark, which is why snipe are most active then.
A little boy once asked me this conundrum of his own making: “What is the difference between Martin Luther and a woodcock?” Just a few differences suggested themselves, but I did not guess right the very first time; can you? “One didn’t like a Diet of Worms and the other does,” was the small boy’s answer.
After the ground freezes hard in the northern United States and Canada, the woodcock is compelled to go south to Virginia. But by the time the skunk cabbage and bright-green, fluted leaves of hellebore are pushing through the bogs and wet woodlands in earliest spring, back he comes again. An odd-looking, thick-necked, chunky fellow he is, less than a foot in length, his long, straight, stout bill sticking far out from his triangular head; his eyes placed so far back in the upper corners that he must be able to see behind him quite as well as he can look ahead; the streaks and bars of his mottled russet-brown, gray and buff and black upper parts being so laid on that he is in perfect harmony with the russet leaves, earth and underbrush of his woodland home. When his mate is sitting on her nest, the mimicry of her surroundings is so perfect it is well-nigh impossible to find her.
Sportsmen pursue both the woodcock and Wilson’s snipe relentlessly, but happily they are no easy targets. Rising on short, stiff, whistling wings they fly in a zig-zag, erratic flight, and quickly drop to cover again, continually breaking the scent for a pursuing dog.