Great Plains Natural Science Society


Date of this Version


Document Type

Book Review


The Prairie Naturalist, Vol. 51, Issue 2, December 2019, pp 79-80


American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) have enthralled conservationists (including Aldo Leopold), bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, hunters, and others interested in the natural world for centuries. No doubt, woodcock also have enthralled humans in North America for millennia prior to written descriptions of the woodcock’s courtship displays, habitat preferences, and curious behavior and anatomy. As perhaps the most extensively studied species of shorebird in the world, there is a rich and extensive literature, both scientific and popular, focused on woodcock ecology, behavior, and hunting. To that extensive body of literature, Sky Dance of the Woodcock provides an updated summary of their natural history, habitat relations, and conservation.

Sky Dance of the Woodcock takes its title from the courtship display of male woodcock, which consists of an elaborate aerial flight incorporating sound produced both vocally and mechanically via highly modified flight feathers. The aerial displays are accompanied by similarly unusual behavior on the ground, including a distinctive ‘peent’ call. This courtship display happens across much of eastern North America each spring, and Hoch uses this wonder to capture the imagination of the readers of his text. Hoch begins the book with an overview of some of the mystery and fascination surrounding woodcock and builds from that opening to describe woodcock anatomy, natural history, and behavior, before describing their courtship display in greater detail. From there, Hoch describes woodcock-habitat relations, provides a historical overview of woodcock hunting, identifies current threats to woodcock populations, summarizes past and recent woodcock research, and finally, presents an updated overview of woodcock conservation and habitat management. Throughout, there is sometimes surprising information about things as simple as what woodcock eat, to more complex assessment of how woodcock use landscapes and migrate to and from spring and summer breeding areas.

This book will undoubtedly appeal to woodcock enthusiasts of a variety to stripes. Woodcock hunters and bird watchers alike will learn something about woodcock-habitat relations, behavior, and conservation. Professional biologists and researchers will benefit from Hoch’s synthesis of a wide range of information about woodcock, and landowners and managers can use some of the concepts in this book to inform their decisions about how to manage lands under their control. Along the way, everyone who reads Sky Dance of the Woodcock is likely to come away with an enhanced appreciation of this captivating bird.—