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Nature Notebook – Woodcock Courtship

Take an evening walk to a damp field adjacent to some woods and you may hear an interesting buzzing sound.  It’s too early for insects to be making noise, so what could it be?  The American woodcock, a bird that likes damp forests and fields, uses that open area to put on a song and dance show for the ladies.

The males have camouflage coloring and like to court in dusk’s low light, which makes it a bit difficult for potential mates to find them.  They solved this problem by developing a spectacular aerial display.

It starts on the ground where the woodcock calls out “Peent!” with a buzzing voice 20 to 40 times.  Then the bird soars up into the sky.  Modified wing feathers produce a whistling twitter during the ascent.  The male descends in a seesaw motion and chirps at the same time.  He dive-bombs the last 20 feet in silence.  After landing, he struts around bopping his head as if to say “Yeah, I’m good.  I’m the best.”  On a good night, the show goes on for hours.

The woodcock’s nest will be constructed in tall grasses on the ground in April.  After a few weeks the offspring will join their mother in probing the damp soil for earthworms.