Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) are a large bulky wading bird with short legs, and a very long straight tapering bill. It is largely nocturnal, spending most of the day in dense cover and very difficult to see, although if you are lucky enough to disturb one you will see its zigzagging flight through the trees before it drops down into cover again. Most of the birds in the UK are residents; although in the autumn birds move to the UK from Finland and Russia to winter here. The breeding population has been falling in recent years, perhaps because of less habitat, as conifer plantations become too mature for woodcocks to find open enough breeding areas.
In the past the early arrival of migrant Woodcock in autumn was said to mean a good harvest, especially if they stayed until spring. It used to be thought that Woodcock flew to the moon during the months when they were not seen and the first full moon in November, when large numbers arrive on the British coast, is sometimes described as the ‘woodcock moon’.
The English surname ‘Woodcock’ developed as a nickname from the bird, meaning ‘a fool, simpleton or dupe’. In William Shakespeare’s play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Berowne describes himself and his friends as ‘four woodcocks in a dish’, after discovering they have all fallen in love when they have sworn not to.
Woodcock can be found at many sites in the High Weald such as Ashdown Forest and in spring the male can often be seen at dusk performing his courtship flight known as ‘roding’.