Last weekend while I was hunting for shed antlers, I happened upon a most unexpected find- the nest of an American Woodcock! The only reason I found it at all is because I was focused on the ground and as I came near it moved ever so slightly, thus drawing my attention to it. There, just several feet away sat the bird. Of course I didn't have my camera with me, so there was just one thing to do: go and get it.
When I returned, the woodcock sat just where I had left it. American Woodcock's will sit tight on their nest and let you get quite close before being flushed. At the time, however, I didn't know that it had a nest. This is the first year that I have ever seen an American Woodcock, and so I know relatively little about them. I wrote about my first encounter with an American Woodcock last week, here.
I was getting a little bit too close, greedy for a perfect picture, when the bird flushed. I actually gasped when I saw the eggs. If I thought I was lucky to find the woodcock itself (and I did), I really was lucky to find a woodcock nest. However, I was also startled that I scared the bird off of it's nest. Some birds (though not many) will abandon a nest if disturbed. Not knowing much about the American Woodcock, I hoped that they wouldn't dessert a nest so quickly. I quickly took a photo and then left.
American Woodcock Eggs
During the nesting season, I am always paranoid that my disturbing a bird will cause it to abandon it's nest. When I looked up the American Woodcock's nesting habits, I found that directly after laying eggs a woodcock will abandon a nest easily if disturbed. However, the more time that they invest in incubation the less likely they are to leave the nest. The bird had already begun incubation, so I hoped that it would come back. Sure enough, when I returned four days later, it was sitting on it's eggs. I only got close enough to see if it was on it's nest before I left.
I was actually shocked by more than just the fact that the bird had a nest underneath it. Almost instantly several things struck me. First, I had no idea a woodcock would nest so early. It had already begun incubating it's eggs, so it would have already spent at least five days nesting (most birds lay one egg a day, and do not begin incubation until all of the eggs have been laid). That meant that the bird had begun around March 15-16. I have no idea how long it had been incubating, so it possibly began even earlier than that.
What also struck me was the size of the eggs... they were big. In comparison, a chicken lays small eggs in proportion to their body size when compared to an American Woodcock. The American Woodcock has a length of about 10-12" (the length of a bird is the measurement from the tip of the bill to the end of the tail feathers). To put that in perspective, the American Robin has an average length of about 91/2". An American Woodcock egg can measure up to 1.7" long and 1.2" wide. That is one big egg for a bird of that size. Once again, to put that in perspective, the egg of an American Robin measures about 1.2" long and 0.8" wide.
I'll leave you with a photo which I took of the woodcock before it was flushed from it's nest the day that I discovered it (above).