|8 living species|
The woodcocks are a group of seven or eight very similar living species of wading birds in the genus Scolopax. 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.
Description and ecology
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. Unlike in most birds, the tip of the bill’s upper mandible is flexible.
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.
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 being 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 as brushtips by artists, who use them for fine painting work.
- Eurasian woodcock, Scolopax rusticola (large Eurasian range)
- Amami woodcock, Scolopax mira (endemic to the Amami Islands in Japan)
- Javan woodcock, Scolopax saturata (endemic to Sumatra and Java in Indonesia)
- New Guinea woodcock, Scolopax rosenbergii (endemic to New Guinea)
- Bukidnon woodcock, Scolopax bukidnonensis (endemic to Luzon and Mindanao in the Philippines)
- Sulawesi woodcock, Scolopax celebensis (endemic to Sulawesi in Indonesia)
- Moluccan woodcock, Scolopax rochussenii (endemic to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia)
- American woodcock, Scolopax minor (large North American range)
A number of woodcocks are extinct and are known only from fossil or subfossil bones. Due to their close relationship to the Gallinago snipes, the woodcocks are a fairly young group of birds, even considering that the Charadriiformes themselves are an ancient lineage. Gallinago and Scolopax diverged probably around the Late Miocene some 10-5 million years ago.