Outdoors Journal: The sound of woodcocks

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT
  • Updated: March 22, 2012 - 10:41 PM

The ground is thawing and unlocking the food supply of earthworms and insects for the American woodcock, so they are returning from the southern states and we are hearing their telltale "peenting" calls and observing their display flights. Woodcocks are stocky birds, with long bills, short necks and a deadleaf pattern on their bodies.

The arrival of spring is widely announced by the noisy courtship displays and vocalizations of birds, and the American woodcock adds its special music at a quiet time of day. Its performance usually begins soon after sunset and ceases when the glow in the western sky disappears, only to begin again in the morning twilight or on moonlight nights. A person wanting to attend a woodcock concert must find the correct habitat. Woodcocks nest in wooded uplands not far from wet lowlands, and they perform their courtship displays on open fields. The bottom lands of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers provide good observation spots.

The loud nasal "peenting" sound is uttered every few seconds as the woodcock struts about on the ground. Suddenly he rises and flies off at an angle, circling higher and higher until he reaches a height of perhaps 200 to 300 feet and looks like a speck in the sky. The upward flight is accompanied by twittering musical notes, probably produced by the vibration of three outer wing feathers that are narrow and stiff. Both sexes have the same wing structure, but practically all records assume that the bird in the air is the male, performing for the benefit of his mate. As the bird flutters back down to earth, a series of chipping whistles completes its elaborate performance. Soon he begins his "peenting" notes again, and the whole act is repeated until it is time to quit for the night or morning.

JIM GILBERT

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