Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly - Woodcocks

Peent! Peent!

What in the world is that sound? Is it a frog? Some insect? A new electronic toy? No, it's the American Woodcock, aka "Timberdoodle," a shorebird that lives in the forest, has no visible neck, and can be very difficult to locate. The eyes are large, protruding and set back far on the head, giving the Woodcock 360 degree vision, a nice trick for someone who hunts for earthworms in the leaf litter. The dark eyes match the dark spots along the back, making it difficult to tell which end is the front. The long flexible beak is perfect for probing the soft ground for earthworms, and bears a strong resemblance to a twig.

We found this guy at Bernheim Forest, on a bird hike with none other than the famous Pete Dunne, of the Cape May Observatory. He spoke at the Beckham Bird Club's annual dinner the night before, and stayed over in Kentucky (a "life state" for him) for a little birding. While it sleeted outside, we had a seminar on pishing from the expert.

In addition to this marvelous camouflage, Woodcocks perform a little swaying dance as they creep through the leaves. Click here to see a video someone else caught of one. Cool, isn't it? Actually, Woodcocks are considered game birds and some people hunt them. Sorry, I just can't see the point of that.

Their mating flight is spectacular, or I suppose the females think it is, since I couldn't see any of it. A little after 8:00 last evening, a group of us gathered along the edges of a field for the big show. In a while, we heard "peent" from one area, followed by another "peent" on the other side of the field. Then the male takes off on his "sky dance", twittering as he spirals 200 - 300 feet into the air, then descending with a different sound. After taking a few bows, the dance starts over again. The female must have the night vision of an owl to be able to see him at all during this. I sure couldn't see anything. The display goes on for half an hour precisely, then stops until the next morning.

Retirement has added one more lifer to my list, the American Woodcock. Funny how the more you go out birding, the more birds, new and old, you actually see!


Bob and Cynthia Kaufman said...

Very nice shots of the Woodcock - a bird we have yet to see.

Kathiesbirds said...

Well written post and so fun to see the video! These are amazing birds!

Anonymous said...

Fabulous shots! I have seen them, but never gotten a picture. You must be enjoying retirement.

Anna said...

I never seen those in real life, only in books and now here. Thanks for sharing. Anna :)