March 24, 2014

Timberdoodle, Bogsucker, Labrador Twister or funnier still… the American Woodcock

Beginning in late February and going straight through the summer one of the most curious evening sounds by the most curious of New England birds occurs. The American woodcock is a grapefruit shaped shorebird (think sandpiper) that lives far from open water or sandy dunes. Compact, long billed, and wide-eyed these ground nesting shorebirds put on one of the early spring’s great aerial displays with accompanying outer space soundtrack.

The male woodcock finds a favorite piece of open field, often close to mature forest and moist with puddles of spring thaw. Known as a “singing ground” the male bird gives a series of “peeeent” calls before rocketing 100 yards into the air and flying a huge circle above the trees and open field. This flight is made even more bizarre by one of the great non-vocal sounds of the avian world. Spaces in the leading, primary wing feathers create a shimmery, twittering sound like a Hollywood robot processing a request from astronaut Mike Jones’ to "change trajectory".

This whole scene is made even more unearthly by the woodcock’s preference for crepuscular display in that enchanted gloaming light in the hour before dark. This flight serves to attract a willing female for mating. Being polygamous the males will often continue to perform this display flight each evening throughout the spring and summer. To find a Woodcock take a walk or park near an open meadow roughly thirty minutes before dusk and listen for the “peeeent” call and head towards the sound.


ideal setting for Spring Woodock sightings

1 comment:

Polly Brown said...

There's a memorable description of woodcock watching in the book Walk When the Moon Is Full by Frances Hamerstrom, a wonderful book about excursions with children in the dark, recently reprinted and available on Amazon. (I just checked.)
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We had a singing ground downhill from us for many years, before the fields turned into a development---but for a few years afterward we continued to hear the woodcock somewhere near by.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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