Saturday, March 5, 2011

Woodcock Walk

American Woodcock Photo Credit D. Fletcher @ Flickr
The first big event of every ornithological year has to be the woodcock walk.  Around here they usually occur in early March.  It's a rather lewd enterprise involving darkness, flashlights and spying.  A woodcock walk is a little like strolling through a bar and listening for pick-up lines, only classier.  This drab bird of forest floors spends most of its year in obscurity, quietly avoiding attention. But early each spring it dances, sings and flings itself into acrobatic flights, all to attract a mate. Its quite a show.

This evening we went up to the Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary near Liberty, Mo.  Our friends Daranya Rasa and Michael Sandy were leading the walk this evening.  It was very chilly but the woodcock's didn't make us wait for long.  On our way out we were treated to seeing 4 or 5 Woodcocks flying into the peenting grounds in the prairie near the entrance to the sanctuary.

Each spring the male woodcock selects a peenting ground where he begins his song and dance.  He dances about in a small area for a few minutes peenting at regular intervals. Then, he takes to the air spiraling in a large circle ever higher and higher.  Through much of his ascent he makes a twittering noise, not unlike the sounds that flying saucers make in the movies.  Once he reaches 200-300 feet he hovers briefly, then begins a zig-zag descent making a series of short squeaking sounds like sneakers on a gym floor. He then returns landing within a few inches of the spot where he took off.  The woodcock will perform this feat several times in the fading twilight.

If you can locate a woodcock on its peenting ground you can move closer and closer to its stage in between each of its acrobatic flights. If you do it right you can catch the dancer in mid dance with your flashlights. Its quite a treat.  As always don't disturb them too much.  There is nothing sadder than a brokenhearted woodcock.


  1. We had a woodcock brought into the office to be identified. One of the secretaries opened the box to take a peek and it flew out, hit the window sill and landed in the trash can. Once it was safely ensconced in the box it was placed in the wildlife managers office. Our maintenance lady noticed the box and asked what was in it, she went to pick it up and the whole box "jumped" and she jumped twice as was quite funny. To say this little bird disrupted the whole office would be an understatement. He is now safely released and hopefully happy dancing for a female right now.

  2. Watching the male woodcock perform it's mating ritual sounds like a quite an experience to behold. Unfortunately, I live in the wrong habitat.

  3. Marvin, I'll bet there is good habitat close by. Check with the local Audubon. I suspect they can direct you to a nearby walk!

  4. Shelly, that is a priceless story.

  5. Woodcock are the best! It's hard to explain how their antics and strange little song transport you to another world.