Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“What’s that? A bird? A bat?”

I was chatting with my friends T and R on Sunday morning on the sidewalk in the very center of New Britain. T pointed to the street next to the curb and exclaimed, “What’s that? A bird? A bat?” A closer look revealed this unexpected sight:

Here’s another photo, with a set of car keys for scale:

That’s the head of a Woodcock, a type of inland shorebird. (The eye is the grayish circle near the dark crown, not within the small dark line that extends back from the bill.) Woodcocks live in wet field edges and are mostly active at dawn and dusk.

How did this Woodcock head end up on the street in downtown New Britain? My first thought was that it might have struck a building during a nighttime migration flight, but it seemed unlikely that it would have suffered decapitation, and where was the rest of it? Perhaps taken off by a scavenging dog, cat, gull, or crow?

And then I remembered that a large grassy park (Walnut Hill Park) is about a half-mile distant from the spot where I found this head, and that there are wooded edges there that might provide suitable habitat for Woodcock. This led to my formulating a more likely scenario that this bird fell prey to an owl or hawk. Red-tailed Hawks are resident downtown, and who knows what owls (Barred or Great Horned) might also be resident? Hawks and owls are very busy feeding rapidly-growing young at this time of year.

In any case, this was a fascinating opportunity to study this bird (well, part of the bird) up close.

Woodcocks feed by probing soil with that incredibly long bill, which is very sensitive to movement; the birds can feel insects, worms, and other nutritious food moving underneath the surface. And the bill has flexible tips, so the bird can use it essentially like a pair of tweezers, grasping the prey and drawing it up to be consumed. It’s really a remarkable animal!

The entire bird is very beautiful, with warm brown plumage that provides perfect camouflage on its nest in the leaf litter. Look online for photos, and also for videos of this bird’s really amusing strutting behavior.


More about birds and birding at this blog:

Bird Behavior

Birding (about the activity of birding)

Birds in Literature and Art

Birds in Migration

Birds in My Backyard http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/Birds%20in%20my%20Backyard

Birds Out and About [my "patch" around town, outside my backyard]


  1. Very cool!

    New Brit-ennnnn! Sorry, couldn't resist.

  2. Nice detective work! Too bad for the woodcock though.

  3. So, a woodcock seeks food in the same manner as a kiwi? Does it also have a sense of smell (I'm told that's rare in avian species)?

  4. democommie, I had to do a little research on that ... apparently kiwi have an extraordinarily developed sense of smell (understandable since their vision is very poor), and woodcocks also have smell, though to a lesser degree. Many sources exist online; one source from 2012 is here: www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u23/downloads/publications/bird-table/BT69_LR_12-13.pdf

    Apparently scientists' understanding of birds' olfactory abilities has changed over time as more has been learned - namely, that birds in general have a better-developed sense of smell than had been previously thought.


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