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Can You Identify This Bird?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 2 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Woodcock Snipe Woodland Leaves

Q.

I've spotted this lovely bird in our garden.

It is a chubby thing with a long beak, and is a mottled brown colour. It flew away before I could take better photos sorry!

(Miss Oriana Toasland, 30 January 2009)

A.

You have photographed a Woodcock or Scolopax rusticola to give it its scientific name. An impressive bird, it’s the largest member of the Snipe family and although it shares the same general appearance and habits as its relatives, its larger size, more rounded wings and generally more “portly” silhouette means that it is unlikely to be confused for any of its smaller kin.

Principally found away from the coast, and typically in moist woodlands or marshy areas, Woodcocks do enter gardens from time to time in their quest for edible invertebrates hiding in the soil – which is why they have that impressive beak. This one may possibly have come to visit for a spot of bug hunting – though they generally prefer to feed in the evening and at night-time.

Solitary and Secretive

Woodcocks are almost entirely solitary and getting a picture of one at all is quite a feat, since they are naturally secretive and although that mottled brown plumage shows up well against your grass, in their natural habitat their “dead-leaf” camouflage is pretty near perfect. Couple this with their almost uncanny ability to sit really still and they become almost invisible in the dappled shade of the woodland floor.

During the breeding season the males show off in slow display flights – known as “roding” – to attract females and often accompany their aerobatics with a soft croaking song, interspersed with a noise that can really only best be described as sounding like a high-pitched sneeze. Somehow it seems far more evocative when you hear it in the woods at dawn or dusk than when you try to describe it on paper – and in any case the females seem to find it irresistible! If your visitor was a local male living in your area, you may hear this for yourself come the spring, or see him roding in the hopes of impressing the ladies.

Status In Britain

Most of the Woodcocks in Britain are full-time residents, but there is a possibility that your bird could be a Russian or Finnish visitor, since a number do make the journey over here in the autumn to spend the winter in the UK, where it’s milder than back home.

According to the RSPB, over recent years the British breeding population of Woodcocks has been falling, possibly through habitat loss and they estimate that there are between 5,400 and 13,700 breeding pairs in the UK.

The Woodcock is on the RSPB “amber” list, and is officially described as having “unfavourable conservation status in Europe,” so you’ve certainly seen – and photographed – something rather special. I hope your new visitor comes back so you can get the chance to take some more, so keep your camera ready and good luck!

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Hi. Could you please identify this bird for me. It comes to my house evey night and sleeps on the window ledge until morning and then leaves. It's got a black body (in the main) with a white tail. It has a white head and a black ruffle neck collar. It looks like a mixture of a magpie and pigeon/turkey!I do have a picture if required. Thanks
KT - 26-Oct-11 @ 4:11 PM
Sorry no photo but we have seen a pair of birds in our gaden in central London - bigger than a robin, with a red cap and a black tail with white spots. Can you please tell me what this is. Thanks.
Tony - 24-Mar-11 @ 3:12 PM
Re: post above (AR-Tony) - I think we saw one of these delightful birds at Speke Hall in mid March. We thought goldfinches at first but then realised they were nothing like them on closer inspection.
Turtles - 22-Mar-11 @ 11:42 AM
No idea regarding above. However, try this, sorry no photo. They were seen in West Hull, in The East Riding Of Yorkshire. England, on 18 March 2011. A matching pair, they were very finch-like re their size, the overall shape of their main body and beak, with wings and tails equal in length to a Goldfinch. Their chests, belly and legs were black... Their upper faces and crowns of heads were black as were their backs and back wings. Pale, washed out beaks to painted cheeks of red. Rear of heads and clearly above necks a fruit segment shaped white scarf. A similar white band across their lower shoulders. One full white band across midway down their backs and back wings. Three full white bands across lower tail. Gorgeous perfect yellow under their wings from tip to armpit, that was invisible to side and rear. They were definitely NOT Goldfinches, either English or European. They were absolutely beautiful. They perched to peck around a Buddleia, for thirty seconds and gone. No time to take a photo.
AR-Tony - 21-Mar-11 @ 5:00 PM
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