American Woodcocks at The Biggest Week

One of the highlights for me of The Biggest Week in American Birding was coming across a nest of newly hatched American Woodcocks near the parking lot at Magee Marsh. Fellow New Mexican Donna Madrid-Simonetti and I stayed well back from the birds and photographed them with our 400 mm lenses.

When we first saw them, they were snuggled up under a log. This photo is heavily cropped, as we did not want to disturb them.

Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

American Woodhen and chicks.

There was caution tape around the area where the birds were sheltering, and birders and photographers kept a respectful distance as we admired the Woodhen and her fuzzy chicks.

Not far away I found the empty eggshells. The tiny chicks had hatched only that morning. The nest where the Woodhen had incubated her eggs was little more than a slight depression in the leaves, and the eggs had blended in perfectly with the detritus on the forest floor.

Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

American Woodcock eggshells

I left the area to do some birding elsewhere. When I came back later that day, the little family was out for a stroll.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

Out for a stroll

I was backing up as I took this photo.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

They started to walk straight toward me.

I had stayed far back from the birds. These images were taken with a 400 mm lens, and they are heavily cropped. But at this point, quite a few people started crowding around the poor Woodhen and her chicks. People were thrusting point and shoot cameras and cell phone cameras right in their faces. The chicks became confused, and the mother Woodhen became distressed. Concerned birders started trying to move people away from the birds, but the babies became scattered. Finally, the babies were coaxed back to the mother and people backed away from the birds. The whole episode was distressing to watch.

Kim Claire Smith wrote about a similar situation with a Kirtland’s Warbler on her blog here. These situations highlight how important it is to be respectful of wildlife, particularly when they are taking care of their young. No photo is worth causing the stress to birds that I observed in this instance.

I am happy to say that the next morning it was reported that the American Woodcock family had crossed the parking lot and was safely in the woods. Here is a video that I took of them before the crowds of people descended. Please note that this small group of birders was far back from the birds. You can see how close the birds were to the parking lot.

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12 Comments

Filed under Ohio bird photography, The Biggest Week in American Birding

12 responses to “American Woodcocks at The Biggest Week

  1. Kim

    Thanks for writing about the woodcock situation, Linda. We need to continue spreading the word about keeping your distance from the birds, especially when they are nesting or trying to protect their babies. (By the way, your video isn’t working for me — it says it’s private.)

    • Yes, I think it’s important to spread the word, and that’s why I linked to your blog where you described a similar situation. I changed the setting. You should be able to view the video now.

  2. Cindy

    How wonderful to experience a family of these birds..too bad even dedicated birders have no wild life manners.. Glad the family made it safely to the woods..Thanks for sharing this Linda!

    • Those little chicks were so adorable! I really did fear for their safety at one point. Fortunately it all turned out well. Wish you could have seen them!

  3. They are the cutest little balls of fluff ever! I’m glad the whole family made it safely across the road.

  4. Linda, when I lived back east I had Woodcocks in my yard often during the breeding season, they always made me smile when they were foraging for food and when they were displaying. Your post brought back such fond memories of these bird, thank you!

  5. Cutest little things I’ve seen in a long time :)

  6. Pingback: Birding News #20 | Prairie Birder

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