Thursday, March 12, 2015

Peent - What's that Bird Saying?

While we were in California last week, Louisville received 12 inches of snow. As the plane approached the Louisville airport, we were surprised to see no snow on the ground at all. Apparently rain followed the snow and melted it all away. So it looks like spring is on the way at last! And what is a great indicator of spring? Woodcocks calling and spring peepers! Scrubby meadows are a good place to look,  but waiting until it's dark enough to suit the bird is the hard part.
The American woodcock is known by a host of colloquial names, the most common being timberdoodle. Other colorful nicknames include Labrador twister, bogsucker and mudsnipe.  Woodcocks are about the size of robins, and their plumage is an overall mottled russet or brown. Males and females are similar in appearance, although females generally average a bit heavier than males -- 7.6 ounces vs. 6.2 ounces -with the weight of each sex varying depending on the time of year. The bird's bill, which appears too long for its body, is used to probe rich soils for earthworms.  Earthworms provide about 60 percent of the bird's diet. The worms are high in fat and protein, they provide the necessary nutrients to help keep woodcock healthy and strong. They are considered game birds, although I can't imagine why anyone would want to shoot one.
Eyes are large, set well back and high on the sides of a timberdoodle's head. Naturalists have speculated that this positioning lets the bird look to all sides while it probes for food. Nostrils are located high on the bill, close to the skull. A woodcock's ears are ahead of its eyes, between the base of the bill and the eye sockets.

During the mating season, a male timberdoodle on the ground will sound a nasal, buzzing insect-like note usually described as a peent. While the peent carries several hundred yards, the much softer tuko is audible up to about 10 yards from the bird. Look around on YouTube for more videos. They are hard to take in the low evening light. Some examples of the different woodcock sounds include: the flight song -- a series of liquid, gurgling chirps -- which is sounded on the wing by a male trying to attract a mate, while a male defending his breeding territory against another male calls cac-cac-cac-cac as he flies toward his rival. While on the ground, a male peents to attract females. He next takes off to ascend 200 or 300 feet on twittering wings. Then, sounding his liquid chirps made with his wings, he spirals downward. Displays and mating occur during short periods at dawn and dusk, usually from early March to mid-May when temperatures are above freezing and winds are calm. I always wonder how the females can see him spiraling above - I certainly have trouble finding him!
Eastern Screech Owl by Thom Barnell
 When it got really dark, the group walked into the woods to look for owls. I confess, I wasn't dressed warmly enough, and wimped out to return to my car. The group was successful though and Thom Barnell got these great shots of a red phase Eastern Screech Owl.

1 comment:

Töyhtötintti said...

Nice photos!

The American woodcock is much smaller than woodcock here in Finland. They are different species – I now.

Very interesting bird!