Just what exactly is a timberdoodle?There is another unusual bird that is making its way through southwest Minnesota as we speak. Many of you may have seen even one in your entire lifetime. The bird that I am referring to is the American Woodcock. They are also called timberdoodles, bogsucker, hookumpeke and night peck.
By: Scott Rall, Northland Outdoors
WORTHINGTON — Last week I wrote a general interest piece on the American Bald Eagle. I received many responses on that column and wanted to let readers know of a really interesting Bald Eagle website. The address to this website is www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles. The site has live streaming video of an eagles nest high up in a cottonwood tree. It has tons of viewers at any one time. The last time that I was on the site there were 135,000 viewers currently watching. There are two newly hatched young and one egg left to hatch. You can see them feed and care for the young and it is easy to get entranced and 30 minutes passes by like 90 seconds. You should certainly check this out.
There is another unusual bird that is making its way through southwest Minnesota as we speak. Many of you may have seen even one in your entire lifetime. The bird that I am referring to is the American Woodcock. They are also called timberdoodles, bogsucker, hookumpeke and night peck. Woodcocks live in Minnesota, but only in the eastern and northeastern ends of the state. These woodland birds are considered a game bird and have a season in Minnesota. In Minnesota during the 1999-2000 season, 54,000 birds were harvested.
The outward appearance of this bird sets it apart from almost all other birds in the state. A woodcock feeds on earthworms, grubs and insects. They have a very long thin beak that is so sensitive that it can detect earthworms moving in the ground beneath them. They migrate every spring and fall, and that is when I have had the opportunity to see them in our area. They winter in the Gulf Coast and make it all the way to Maine in the spring. Both migrations are considered leisurely compared to the very direct migration of other birds. They head south before the ground starts to freeze up and are in our area mid-October and after ice out in the spring. They only migrate at night, which is another reason that we hardly ever see them.
They are a ground nesting bird and hatch an average of four eggs each spring. Incubation is 20-21 days in length and they can fly when they are 25 days old. They are independent at six weeks. An adult is 10-12 inches long and tips the scales at a whopping 5-8 ounces.
Woodcocks need very specialized habitats. Woodcocks really need a combination of forest habitats that cover everything from new grow to almost mature forests. Without the benefit of new grow forests woodcock populations have declined about one percent every year for the past 20 years. There are more than a few folks who are working on the behalf of the woodcock. Wildlife professionals do a practice called shearing. It is the use of heavy machinery that cuts all of the trees big and small to a height of six inches.
Each year a different area is sheared and after a few years of intense management you have large areas that have several different stages of forest growth. It is this variation that allows woodcocks to do well. As you can see by the description, this effort is a substantial undertaking, requiring more than a little specialized equipment and I can only imagine the cost involved. I have a friend in Aitken who owns about 100 acres of forest land that woodcock inhabit. He manipulates this habitat by shearing to its maximum potential for woodcock at great personal cost, and with almost perfect habitat he harvested 15 woodcocks off of the property in each of the past two years.
The woodcocks that I see are in the fall are when I am out pheasant hunting. I have never harvested one but have had a few chances. By the time your brain concludes that what you are seeing is a woodcock they are normally out of gun range. You see then so seldom around here that you’re just not expecting it. They swoop and fly erratically so that even if I could identify it as a woodcock right away there is no guarantee that I could hit it if I tried.
This is one of the things that I have on by bucket list, is to learn more about this unique bird and have the opportunity to pursue them with someone who knows their way around a woodcock and its habitats. This is one of the more interesting creatures that come and go through southwest Minnesota, and one that most residents have never heard of and thus have no appreciation for.
Be it a woodcock or a meadowlark, take the time to learn a little more about southwest Minnesota’s habitats and the animals that call this area home. You might just stumble across a species that will get you outdoors on a regular basis and that is good for both you and the species you seek.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.