Pound Ridge Land Conservancy
An odd little bird flushed up from the ground in late November at the Armstrong Preserve, startling me with its distinctive shape and erratic flight pattern. It landed again on the ground and disappeared, camouflaged against the brown leaves of Autumn. It was an American woodcock, rarely seen in southern New York except during migration.
The Breeding Bird Atlas of New York has documented a decline in this sandpiper species over the last thirty years, especially on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley. Habitat loss and the prevalence of predators in suburban areas are a threat to ground-dwelling birds like the woodcock. They are still hunted as game however, with open season in New York from October 1 to November 14.
The woodcock’s preferred habitat is old field in transition to forest. This increasingly uncommon ecotype is also home to the now-rare New England cottontail rabbit. In Pound Ridge, woodcock have been known to breed in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and are likely to at PRLC’s Clark Preserve.
A recommended resource for identifying and learning more about winged wildlife is All About Birds, by the famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
A list of the Birds of Westchester County, compiled by Hudson River Audubon, is a good place to fact-check when confirming the identity of a questionable bird. They list the Woodcock as being common in spring (probably migrating birds) and uncommon in summer and fall. Winter sightings have been made, meriting an “occasional.” Their year-round range should expand north with a warming climate.
Author’s note on field guides: I am forever grateful to Roger Tory Peterson for his system of identifying field marks and also to David Sibley for his comprehensive descriptions. I still prefer them to apps in the field.