Woodcocks Twitter from the Sky
A dance of love goes on every dawn and dusk in a field near my home...
American Woodcocks are back.
Starting mid-February, I went out every morning at dawn to listen for them. Yesterday I was rewarded!
If you live in eastern US, you too may be able to hear woodcocks. The light has to be low — early dawn or late dusk. The location will be a clearing or a field of short grass, next to woods. Where I am, in southeast Iowa, March is the best time to hear woodcocks.
Males being males
Usually, several males choose the same field in which to display and court females. In dim light, the males strut around on the ground, uttering repetitive, buzzy calls. It sounds like they’re saying peent. You can hear the sound here.
After a minute or so, a male leaps into the sky and flies up high, in spirals. Listening from the ground, we hear chirps and a whistled twittering. Although the sky is pretty dark, you might glimpse the silhouette of a woodcock flying overhead.
The twitter sounds like a birdsong. However, it comes not from the throat but from the wings. Three outer feathers of each wing are specially adapted to produce the twittering when air passes over them. You can hear the twitter sound here.
Female being female
The female does not call or display. She watches from the shadowy edge of the field and chooses which male will father her young. She probably picks the one whose song and flight she finds loveliest. She runs toward her chosen mate.
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He hurries to meet her while stretching out his wings, the way a human reaches arms wide to hug a returning beloved.
The dance of love
One evening I was watching woodcocks as the light dropped lower each moment. I saw a bird run out to meet a displaying male. Doing my best to focus in the darkness, I shot a few seconds of video.
I had to turn up the brightness of the result to see if I’d gotten anything. The video was dark and grainy.
But it was woodcocks mating.
In the video, the male raises his wings into arches and goes toward the female. He hops onto her back, his wings fluttering fast. Both birds bounce as they mate, and then the female runs off to the right.
The dance of love is complete.
The woodcock’s nest
She might have already chosen her nest site on the ground in the woods next to the field where they met.
It is almost impossible to see a woodcock’s nest, so perfectly is it camouflaged among dead leaves. Female woodcocks keep their secret well. Sometimes they will remain motionless on the nest even if a person unknowingly walks inches from the nest.
Many time I have watched and heard woodcocks displaying in early spring. I know they must be nesting in my woods, but in twenty years of watching woodcocks, I have seen a nest only once.
And I’ve never seen round, fluffy baby woodcocks with their mama in the woods. Maybe this year. Ah, spring.
What wonderful sighting for you. I have seen very few woodcocks in our wooded area. The location where I have seen them is far enough, that I have to push myself up early enough to walk the trail to see if I can find them. How long do they continue the flight? Are they active on these cold mornings still? Thanks for the beautiful writing and the cool video!!
Yes I did. Well done. Bet there are not very many videos that have been taken of thst.