Some hunters insist that they can tell by looking at a bird whether he is a flight bird or a native. Their explanation is that the flight bird is either larger or smaller than the native bird, depending upon who is making the explanation. I've heard this from hunters all up and down the line. If a flight woodcock were truly larger, those that fly into New Jersey from lower New York would be larger than the home-grown variety, those from Connecticut would be larger than the New York birds, those from Massachusetts larger yet, and so on until those which fly into northern Maine from Canada would look like turkeys.
There is no difference in appearance between a flight woodcock and a native woodcock, any more than there is a difference of that kind among robins or green-winged teal or any other migratory birds. Technically, almost all woodcock are flight birds even before the season opens, and they are not going to look any different for having flown a few miles. A "native" bird becomes a flight bird 20 miles south of the hillside where he was raised, and I doubt that he changes appearance overnight.
One solution to this prevalent different-size theory is the distinction between a male and a female woodcock. The hen bird is noticeably larger and has a longer bill. To explain the difference to himself the hunter might assume that the larger—or smaller—birds, the females or males, come from different areas.
In the experience of the men I hunt with, the stragglers found at the bitter end of the season are predominantly male birds. Fish and Wildlife Service men banding birds on their wintering grounds in Louisiana have noted through the years that the male birds depart for the North about a week ahead of the hen birds. Nothing is known about any such tendency during the fall migration but if we take the freedom of a generous assumption, it might be deduced that the male birds are more rugged than the females and stay North longer. This would mean that the tail end of the migration would consist of male—and thereby smaller—birds.
But all these conjectures and theories only add charm to the mysterious and contradictory little owl snipe and have little to do with his game qualities, which are the best. He has all the necessary characteristics to make him interesting and challenging to hunt: he has a fast getaway, his flight is erratic and, most important, he is unpredictable.