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March Madness in the Sky

Mar 08, 2020

Often, the only way to find a woodcock is to follow close behind a dog with a good nose.  Unless it's March and time for some madness in the sky.  This month, woodcock's emerge from hiding and do a dramatic sky dance that announces the end of winter.

The woodcock is an odd, quail-sized bird, with a long skinny bill and shoebutton eyes set high on the sides of its head.  It lives in thickets, but your're not likely to see one up close.  That's because woodcocks wear superb camouflage and sit so still that you can practically step on them before they'll fly.

On early spring evenings, though, the male woodcock reveals himself.  At dusk, he finds a spot in an open field and begins the woodcock courtship ritual.  First, he calls out a nasal "peent."  Then, he flies with twittering wings in a giant upward spiral, climbing several hundred feet.  Finally, he drops singing back to earth, and begins the series again.  To spot a woodcock, listen for its evening call.  Then, when the bird takes off, move quickly and siletnly to the place he left.  Wait for his return and catch his show in your flashlight beam.  It's time to welcome spring and the woodcock assures is that it's almost here.

Woodcock Notes

  • Although they are shorebirds by lineage, American woodcocks live in open forests, young woodlands near water, moist pastures, and forested floodplains. 
  • In summer they are probably most common as residents in the eastern part of the state. 
  • This species might be decreasing on the continent as their preferred habitat grows into mature forest.
  • American woodcocks forage for earthworms in young woodlands near water, in moist pastures and forested floodplains. 
  • The tip of the long bill is flexible, and the bird uses it to probe soft ground for its prey.
  • As groundnesters, woodcocks, and particularly their nests and young, provide food for numerous predator species.

For more on the woodcock, visit MDC's Field Guide.

 

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American Woodcock
American Woodcock

American Woodcock courtship displays

 Watch the courtship display of the woodcock in this video, courtesy of Dominique Lalonde Films Nature.
Watch the courtship display of the woodcock in this video, courtesy of Dominique Lalonde Films Nature.

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