BBC Wildlife Magazine
How was the woodcock pilot named?
Britain’s smallest bird, the woodcock pilot (aka goldcrest) is one of the tiniest in the northern hemisphere and a much-loved species. Despite its diminutive size, its ability to cross the the North Sea on its autumn migration from Scandinavia has long been a talking point. This journey coincided with the annual influx of winter thrushes and woodcock, and earned the goldcrest the nickname ‘woodcock pilot’. Indeed, wildfowlers that gathered to hunt woodcock believed that the goldcrest appeared a few days earlier and thus heralded their quarry’s arrival. Observers claimed to have seen the goldcrest perched on the woodcock’s back, but that’s probably little more than a fanciful vision. Incidentally, short-eared owls migrating to Britain across the North Sea in autumn were also given the same nickname.