By Saundra McBrearty, Outreach and Volunteer Specialist
When I first spotted this short, pudgy upland shorebird, I thought “This bird looks like a clown.” It was rocking back and forth from foot to foot as it carefully lugged its long pencil-shaped beak along a forest trail at Blues Creek Park. Bewildered, I watched this American Woodcock forage for earthworms, snails, millipedes, spiders, flies, beetles and ants using its long bill. Its bill is unique because it has a flexible upper mandible specialized for extracting small prey. The vibrations from the rhythmic rocking motion it was making prompted prey to move underground, making slight sounds that the woodcock could hear or feel.
American Woodcocks are easiest to find at dusk in springtime, when the male performs a marvelous mating display. Listen for the distinctive buzzy peent call given at short intervals. He intersperses this call, given from the ground, with his spiraling dance flights.
It seems like he falls in love as he sings and dances high in the sky and plummets to the ground. In the air, the bird makes musical chirps and a twittering sound as air passes through his wingtips. The dance continues well into the night, so if you hear the peent call be patient, track it to its source, and see if you can catch sight of the male falling in love.
Click these links below to witness American Woodcock chicks rockin’ out for food, and a male woodcock dancing in the sky!
Join a naturalist at Blues Creek Park on Friday, March 16, 7 p.m., to stalk the American Woodcock and hopefully witness the sky dance in person. This program is for ages 5 and older.