Standing in the field at dusk, we waited. Alert for the whir of wings or a dark shape spiraling into the sky. Listening to a bird’s language of twitters, chirps and a nasal buzzing sound like …
Standing in the field at dusk, we waited. Alert for the whir of wings or a dark shape spiraling into the sky. Listening to a bird’s language of twitters, chirps and a nasal buzzing sound like the noise of a socket wrench.
My sister, my husband and I were waiting in the dark in the new grass for a glimpse of a male American woodcock (Scolopax minor) performing its courtship flight. The woodcock’s graceful mating ritual is a sight to be seen now and in the coming weeks as one of the unique and beautiful portents of spring here in the Upper Delaware River valley.
The American woodcock, which is colloquially referred to as the timberdoodle or the bog sucker, isn’t much to look at with its dowdy, plump body, short legs and long, straight bill, ideal for probing the dirt for its favorite foods of worms and insect larvae. But when the male is on the make, he transforms into an elegant suitor, displaying himself in a flight dance, which can climb to heights of 200 to 350 feet into the sky. He starts by calling females with a muffled, buzzing noise, soars into the air then descends singing a chirping song accompanied by the twittering sound of his wings as air moves through his feathers.
Woodcocks are most active at dusk and dawn when they come out from wooded cover to old meadows and fields to call and attract their mates. Listen for the bird’s early morning ratcheting buzz as well as the more familiar “okalee” call of the red-winged blackbirds and the robin’s raucous zaghrouta.
The female woodcock makes a nest on the ground in wooded areas and lays up to four speckled, buff-colored eggs. The babies begin to look for food on their own at about four days old and are completely independent in about a month.
Yes, you may have seen a woodcock running viral on the internet in meme form in those amusing videos of the groovy bird rocking back and forth crossing a roadway sometimes to The Bangles song “Walk Like an Egyptian.” This bobbing dance is thought to possibly be a woodcock’s way of stirring the soil to detect worms or perhaps a defense mechanism. But get off the internet and into the outdoors (advice I need to take more often than not). Now is the time to look for these exciting birds in the wild. Listen for the bird language.