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File:American Woodcock Scolopax minor.jpg
American Woodcock (S. minor)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Neoaves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Scolopaci
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Scolopax
Linnaeus, 1758
[[#Species|7-8 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 Wallacea. Their closest relatives are the typical snipes of the genus Gallinago.[1]

Description, ecology and use by humans[]

File:Wenceslas Hollar - A dead deer and dead game.jpg

Two Eurasian Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) lie behind the hares in Václav Hollar's 17th century etching A dead deer and dead game

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.[2] Unlike in most birds, the tip of the bill's upper mandible is flexible.[3]

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.[4]

All woodcocks are popular gamebirds; the island endemic species are often quite rare already due to overhunting. The pin feathers of the woodcock are much esteemed as brushtips by artists, who use them for fine painting work.[5] The pin feather is the covert of the leading primary feather of the wing.


The following species of woodcocks are extant today:[6]

Fossil record[]

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.

  • "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)
  • Puerto Rican Woodcock, Scolopax anthonyi (prehistoric)


  1. ^ Hayman et al. (1986), Thomas et al. (2004)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Mousley (1934), Hayman et al. (1986), McKelvie (1993)
  4. ^ Hayman et al. (1986), McKelvie (1993), Kennedy et al. (2001)
  5. ^ Dowden, Joe Francis (2007). The Landscape Painter's Essential Handbook. Newton Abbot, UK: David & Charles. p. 7. ISBN 0715325019. 
  6. ^ Hayman et al. (1986), Kennedy et al. (2001)


  • 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
  • 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 [sic]. Forktail 17(1): 1-12. PDF fulltext
  • McKelvie, Colin Laurie (1993): Woodcock and Snipe: Conservation and Sport. Swan Hill.
  • Mousley, H. (1934): The earliest (1805) unpublished drawings of the flexibility of the upper mandible of the woodcock's bill. Auk 51(3): 297-301. DjVu fulltext PDF fulltext
  • Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004): A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny. BMC Evol. Biol. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28 PDF fulltext Supplementary Material

External links[]

Eurasian Spoonbill This article is part of Project Bird Genera, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each genus, including made-up genera.
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