Cape May's Winter Woodcock and Snipe

Posted 01/28/05
by Paul Kerlinger
Cape May Times Outdoors Columnist

CAPE MAY, N.J. – If you haven't seen the winter woodcock phenomenon in Cape May, its worth taking a look. The woodcock gather along Sunset Blvd after several days of freezing temperatures and, or lots of snow. They seek ground that is not frozen, so they can probe for insects and worms.

Snipe are not often found during winter along Sunset Blvd, but we found one mixed in with the woodcock this morning.

Like most woodcock, most snipe migrate farther south to avoid freezing ground and snow cover.

We had a chance to see both side by side this chilly AM.

Note that the woodcock (top) has a reddish breast, while the snipe (bottom) has bars along their flanks. Red vs barred is the first thing to stand out. You will also note a difference in size - snipe are a bit smaller.











Where to See the Phenomenon

Just drive slowly along Sunset between Cape May Point and where Stevens and Sea Grove come together. The birds gather on the north side of the road, right on the grassy margin.

Don't bother them - they have virtually no fat or energy reserves and some are probably dying. In previous years we have seen dozens die along this strip and probably hundreds died throughout Cape May.

It is sad, but it shows how natural selection shapes the winter distribution of birds. Those that stay too far north, simply don't leave offspring the following year.




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