WOODCOCK
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WOODCOCK

WOODCOCK




      

WOODCOCK


WOODCOCK (Scolopax rusficola). This is a very shy bird, rarely taking wing except disturbed; but at the close of day leaves its favourite haunt under thick covers in rotten ditches, woods, &c. and wanders in search of food, directed by an exquisite sense of smelling, to those places most likely to produce its natural sustenance; and by a still more exquisite sense of feeling in its long bill, which it thrusts into the soft earth, not a worm can escape. The eyes of the woodcock are large, and well calculated for collecting the faint rays of light in sequestered woodlands, enabling them to avoid obstacles in their nocturnal excursions. The nerves in the bill, as in that of the duck tribe, are numerous, and highly sensible of discrimination by the touch. An erroneous idea prevails that the woodcock lives by suction.

Easterly or north-easterly winds are supposed to be most favourable to the migration of the woodcock. On their first arrival they are poor, as if wasted by want of food and a long journey ; and so sluggish, that after being flushed and shot at they will drop again at the distance of a hundred yards. Mr. White, in his History of Se1borne, observes, that he is not able to determine whether this laziness be the effect of a recent fatiguing journey ; but that from a variety of observations he has made, they seem singularly listless upon the approach of snowy or foul weather, which Mr. W. conceives to arise from an eagerness after food: the taste of the flesh also is different from that which it acquires by a residence in this climate. If killed just before his departure, he bleeds more freely than at the beginning of winter. The woodcock, when undisturbed, will continue for weeks together in the same cover. This bird first appears on the eastern coast of Scotland, but is seldom seen in the central parts of the kingdom until the middle of October, and forsakes us in the spring. It sometimes happens that a few woodcocks will remain in England during the summer, and breed; but this is of rare occurrence; the probability is, that they have been wounded, and therefore unequal to a flight across the trackless ocean.

In November and December, 1823, upwards of two thousand woodcocks, in their migration to this and other genial climes, were caught alive on the island of Heligoland, in the German ocean, towards which they had been driven, exhausted, by a gale of wind. A great number were sent to the continent, and sold at from sixpence to ninepence each. Several were caught alive also at Harwich.

The woodcock, though generally slow and sluggish, is, nevertheless, capable of winging its way with more than ordinary speed. In the olden time woodcock-hawking was a favourite amusement. When this diversion was followed on the coast, it was no uncommon occurrence for the woodcock to take to. the sea, when the pursuer and the pursued were frequently swallowed up in the waves; or, at least, the hawk was seldom recovered.

Woodcocks have, for some centuries, been in high estimation; consequently.before the art of shooting flying had made much progress, they were sought for on the ground by the fowler; but by far the greater quantity were taken in nets and springes, both of which are still in partial use, but the former are the most destructive.

Harewood, Harry. A Dictionary of Sports. London: T. Tegg and son, 1835.

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