By Noreen O’Brien, Purchasing, Marine Parts Express
Woodcocks are back in full force, filling the nighttime with their calls, tweets, and twitters. “Peent!” calls the male in a nasal tone, punctuating the end of his elaborate flight display designed to impress a potential mate. The male timberdoodle, a common alternate name for the American Woodcock, performs this dance with practice runs before the breeding season begins and, seemingly impressed with himself, continuing well on into late fall. This unique bird will delight you after dark; hours after its cousins are snug in their sleeping quarters.
While it is a shorebird, the woodcock is nocturnal and prefers wet, moist fields along the edge of woods, rather than the sandy beaches and marshes other shorebirds like. About 11 inches in size, the plump, short-legged timberdoodle almost appears to have no neck. It has cryptic coloring on its back, looking like the dry leaf litter it spends its days crouching in for camouflage, flushing only just before it is about to be stepped on. Its belly is unmarked and a lovely, pale cinnamon color, and the crown of its head has horizontal black and buff-colored stripes, whereas the other shorebirds with striped heads have vertical lines.
Adding to its uniqueness are the woodcock’s large eyes, which sit almost on top rather than on the sides of its head. This enables the bird to remain on the lookout for predators as it probes, head down, in the soft earth with its extremely long bill for its favorite food, earthworms. How cool is that? In addition, its bill is flexible, making it capable of hooking those tasty worms, as well as centipedes, beetles and any other delectable (to a timberdoodle, at least).
Male woodcocks are promiscuous birds, mating with as many females as they can. Females raise the young entirely on their own. Males vie for the attention of more than one female at the same time, flying in a wide upward spiral with the wind creating a chirping sound as it passes through the wing feathers. At about 300 feet, the bird pauses briefly and descends with wings spread, looking much like a leaf fluttering to the ground. During the descent, the wind once again passing through the wing feathers, a new sound is heard, more of a twittering, until the bird is close to the ground, at which point it turns into a near dive, though it lands on its feet. Signaling he has reached the earth once again and is ready to mate if the female accepts him, he calls his nasal “peent.” Touchdown is at almost the same point from which the bird took off on its twittering flight.
This lovely dance occurs from dusk till dawn, beginning as early as February and well into November. On spring nights, I have counted dozens in one field, though I do not know how many females were on the ground watching right along with me, nor do I know if they were as impressed as I with this courtship ritual.
Head out to the fields just before dusk during March and April, the months the woodcocks are most active. It might take some effort and searching to find the right habitat and field, but it will be worth it. If you want some company on your quest for the woodcock in flight (or come to my place and stand in my dooryard for a front row seat), email me. I can’t get enough of this fascinating creature.
To hear the elaborate display we put forth in an effort to satisfy your needs for marine engine parts, call Marine Parts Express at 877.621.2628.
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March 18, 2011 / Noreen O'Brien / 2
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