American Woodcock – a Sign of Spring

Winter seems determined to hang on in Maine.  For the last few weeks the State has been buffeted by snow storm after snow storm, with high winds and power outages.

Winter’s determination has delayed my annual journey to nearby meadows at sunset to hear (and hopefully see) the American Woodcock’s elaborate courtship display.

The display typically takes place at dusk in open fields near forests, where the males will make themselves visible by calling out a distinctive PEENT sound. After “singing” for several minutes, the male will launch into the air with a series of high-pitched, twittering sounds.

As the American Woodcock climbs upward, his wings produce a whistling sound that grows louder as he ascends, before suddenly diving back down to the ground with a loud, nasal PEENT call. This display is repeated several times, with each cycle lasting around 10-15 seconds.

So last evening, a week later than usual, I headed out to my favorite Woodcock spot.  Sadly the meadow was covered with 4-6 inches of packed snow with only a few bare spots.  I crunched across the field to a relatively snow free area about 20 minutes before sunset.

Sunset came went with no Woodcocks (although three Bald Eagles flew over).  A Barred Owl began to call in the distance.

There is actually a 29 minute window between sunset and last light . . . and this twilight is when the Woodcocks begin their dance.

I waited and it got darker. And darker. And darker.  Last light was 7:14 and at 7:10 I began to think that the snow was too much for even the most amorous Timber Doodle.

Then at 7:13 as I was about to head for the car . . . it started. PEENT

The sound came from my left.

Then a PEENT from the right.

Then a PEENT from behind.

I could make out some movement as the birds launched into the air . . . I think I had at least six males calling . . . but it was hard to keep track in the dark.

So despite winter’s best efforts . . . Spring is coming to Maine . . . thank you American Woodcock.


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