Tag Archives: woodcock

8 Ways to Watch Woodcocks

American Woodcocks are back! Even when spring arrives late, woodcocks still perform their remarkable sky dances. In March and early April, these fascinating, awkward-looking birds put on a mating display at dusk.

The best part: it’s easy to view this display in any large brushy field, including some city parks.

American Woodcock by Will Freedberg

Keep an ear out for a woodcock’s sharp, nasal “peent!” from sunset to half an hour afterwards. The woodcock will take off after a few calls, wheeling and diving in the sky as their wings produce their signature twitter. Then, the bird dives steeply, its wings continuing to whistle as it falls to the ground to start over.

To help you track down these enigmatic birds, here’s a list of Mass Audubon’s upcoming guided woodcock walks, plus some sites in greater Boston to look for them by yourself.

Mass Audubon Woodcock Programs

Join a walk if you want some help finding woodcocks or just enjoy the company of a group of nature lovers. Experienced naturalists will make sure you don’t miss a peent!

1. In Greater Boston: March 30 and April 6 at Broadmoor (Natick); March 31 and April 14 at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum (Milton); April 3 for adults and April 7 for teens at Drumlin Farm; April 8 at the Boston Nature Center (Mattapan).

2. On the South Shore: March 28 and April 4 at Birchwold Farm (Wrentham) with Stony Brook; April 7 at North River (Marshfield).

3. In Central and Western Massachusetts: April 4 at Broad Meadow Brook (Worcester); April 5 at Wachusett Meadow for families (Princeton); April 7 at Arcadia (Easthampton/Northampton); April 11 at Pleasant Valley (Lenox).

4. On Cape Cod: March 30 and April 14 at Long Pasture (Barnstable); March 30 and April 7 at Wellfleet Bay (Wellfleet).

See the entire list of woodcock programs!

4 Parks to Seek Woodcocks in Greater Boston on Your Own

5. West Roxbury: Millennium Park
This former landfill became a great birding site after it was covered with soil from the Big Dig and reclaimed by native grassland. Search for woodcocks along the northwest and southwest edges of the park and by the canoe launch.

6. Boston: Franklin Park
Park off of Circuit Drive. The best area is through the open area towards a softball field.  Sometimes, woodcocks display in the sports fields off of Pierpoint Drive to the north.

7. Cambridge: Alewife Reservation
Most woodcocks are found by walking the path between Bullfinch Parking Lot (off of Acorn Park Drive) and the T station.

8. Belmont: Rock Meadow
Rock Meadow is best accessed from a small parking lot on the West side of Mill St. south of its intersection with Concord Ave. Walk the path into the adjacent field about 400 feet, passing the community gardens on your left. The woodcocks will be displaying on your right, but can be found further into the meadows as well.

Post by William Freedberg, Bird Conservation Associate

The Dance of the Woodcock

American woodcock by David LarsonIt’s an annual rite of passage. As the snow melts away and the first traces of greenery return to the woods of New England, our breeding birds begin the courtship process. And no bird is more of an exhibitionist then the American woodcock.

Early March, these elusive birds gather at the forest’s edge to perform their famous “sky-dance.”

It goes something like this: First, male woodcocks utter a distinctive one-note peent call with a buzzy, nasal quality. They then flutter high into the air and circle repeatedly, allowing the rushing air to rise in a winnowing whistle as it passes over their wings. To finish off, they acrobatically descend back to the very same spot they took off from and repeat the process in the hopes of attracting a female.

About American Woodcocks

Also known as Timberdoodles (timber, for their woodland habitat, doodle because they look somewhat silly), these plump, mottled forest birds might resemble grouse or quail at first glance. However, it’s their long bills that betray their true genetic identity as members of the sandpiper family, Scolopacidae. These exceptional bills allow woodcocks to probe through soft mud in search of worms and other invertebrates to eat.

It’s often difficult to spot woodcocks outside of their courtship display. Their plumage allows them to be very well camouflaged when hiding in the leaf litter, where they build their nests and incubate their eggs.

The American woodcock can be found throughout Massachusetts, from the Berkshires to Nantucket. Yet, according the State of the Birds report, there may be trouble ahead for this beloved bird as more old field habitats they depend for their singing grounds are disappearing.

Seeing Them in Action

The courtship flights of the American woodcock are impressive, and, fortunately, easy to observe. Just as the biting cold of winter begins to abate in late February and early March, the first woodcocks return to the Commonwealth.

Although woodcocks nest in forested areas, they prefer to perform their courtship displays in more open habitat. For this reason, old pastures and the margins of wooded wetlands are some of the best places to look for singing woodcocks. Courtship activity is most intense around sunset, so plan your woodcock excursions to arrive at the singing grounds before twilight.

Need a little guidance? Join an upcoming woodcock program. And check out this great Living on Earth segment, where a Mass Audubon naturalist brings the mating ritual to the airwaves.