The American Woodcock, Scolopax minor
That’s right, I said it, Woodcock; no relation to the Woodpecker. But like woodpeckers they do use their long bills to probe for food and in this case, earth worms top their diet. Woodcocks are a plump short-legged shorebird that thrive in wet meadows, agricultural fields that buffer on deciduous forests and wet shrubby fields. Woodcocks are one of our earliest spring migrants to return to our area to start their courtship. I remember being out on an owl prowl in early April and hearing and seeing my first woodcock. These robin sized birds are absolutely magical when showing off for their ladies. And since they spend most of their time on the ground, the only time you may witness them is when they take to the air for the aerial portion of the courtship, and even then, you better have a good eye, because you’ll hear him before you see him.
So now you’re curious…you want to see or hear a woodcock. Then find their habitat, I’m lucky because they have always been near my backyards. Wait till dusk in late March or early as April and listen. These guys, and I literally mean guys since they are courting the females, will call all night, straight till dawn. And listen some more until you start to hear their call, it sounds like a nasally PEENT….PEENT…..PEENT. This is the call they make while on the ground and then they explode into the air and twirl upwards in a circle up to 250/300 feet. This is known as the sky dance. As the male ascends his feathers start to twitter as air passes through the wingtips. Then he stops and descends in fast zigzag movements while chirping and lands next to a female, if one is watching. Lucky her.
I know it’s a funny name for a bird but these guys are so special and there’s nothing like listening to them in the evening as the sun lingers a little bit longer teasing us that summer is near. So give it a try and see if you can hear them in amongst the Spring Peepers and chorus frogs next time you’re out.
Here’s a website that has the calls to familiarize yourself:
Andrew Major is the Owner and Operator of Georgian Bay Wildlife Tours
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