American Woodcock - A Cape May Phenom

Usually, it takes work and luck to get close views of American Woodcock.

However, almost every winter in Cape May a gathering of these birds can be seen along the north side of Sunset Blvd, just east of Light House Road.

Drive slowly and carefully watch for them sunning themselves and feeding in snowfree areas only a few feet off the road. Try not to disturb them – remain in your car (and watch for traffic).

Woodcock camoflage helps them blend with the dead leaves and grasses. If the sun hits their flanks and breast, a rusty tawny richness helps you locate them.
woodcock

Because woodcock feed by probing their long, flexible bills into the earth for worms and other insects, they must find areas where the soil remains unfrozen. The presence of a sewage pipe below the ground along Sunset Blvd. sometimes keeps the roadside unfrozen longer than practically any place else in Cape May.

woodcock along sunset drive

This, along with the roadside being protected from the cold northwest winds and being on the sunny side of the street, makes this part of Sunset Blvd. the perfect place for woodcock.

Although it may seem sad, long periods of subfreezing weather spells doom for dozens, perhaps hundreds of woodcock that over winter here in Cape May. In winters when the ground doesn’t freeze, woodcock survive nicely, but when the ground freezes for more than a week, many if not most of the birds die. While this may sound harsh, it is natural selection at work – a process that has gone on for millennia.

 

 
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