Woodcocks breed throughout England, Wales and Scotland, but they are more common in the north. The heathy woodlands of the Hampshire, Dorset and Surrey are strongholds for them in southern England and the New Forest population is particularly important. Unlike many other waders they do not feed on coastal mudflats and salt marshes, even in winter.
Woodcocks breed in damp woodlands especially where there are gaps between and under the trees. The mosaic of habitats across much of the New Forest, including the acid heathlands, is ideal for them. Woodlands on chalk downland tend to be too dry, and coppiced woodlands on the clays are often too dense with a lot of shrubs.
Conifer plantations can also be a good habitat for woodcocks, usually before the trees grow up too tall and especially if there is a variety of age blocks within the same area.
Woodcocks perform a distinctive display flight called roding: they fly over and around the edges of woodlands at dusk and dawn, making strange squeaks and grunts. During the day they rest or feed quietly in woods and are not often seen. At night they venture into open areas to feed.
Woodcocks are quite widespread across the New Forest and can be seen around any of the woods with adjacent heathland. A very reliable area is the woodland just east of Blackwater car park. It is best to go at dusk on a late spring or early summer evening. Try May or June.
ID tip – The woodcock is a medium-sized brown wader with a conspicuously long, straight beak, bars across the head and a mottled brown back. The snipe has a similar shape and overall colour but has straw coloured stripes down the head and back and an erratic zig-zag flight.
Photo credit: Manny Hinge – Woodcock