The Woodcock Sky Dance

While they have many names – Bogsucker, Labrador Twister, Timberdoodle – the American Woodcock is known for its marvelous sky dance. Every spring, wet meadows and fields transform into a “runway” for their beautiful aerial courtship display. Before you observe the love flight for yourself, catch up on some woodcock basics.

© Jonathan Eckerson

About American Woodcocks

It’s easy to miss these forest-dwelling birds: their brown or russet belly and intricate markings lining the back allow them to easily blend into the wooded and shrubby landscape. But one look at these plump, short-legged birds and you will easily see how they earned the affectionate nickname of timberdoodle. Timber for the habitat and doodle for their silly look.

Adding to their unique appearance are eyes positioned far back on their heads and long bill; a member of the sandpiper family, Scolopacidae, woodcocks probe through soft mud in search of worms and insects to eat all the while keeping an eye out for predators.

© Anna Jarosinski

Dancing from Dusk to Dawn

When the snow melts in the New England woods, American Woodcocks return from southern regions to breed. To attract a partner, male woodcocks will first start grounded and call out to females with a distinct, nasal peent, or piping sound.

Males then fly to 200 or 300 feet before spiraling through the air to perform their flight songs. While singing a series of high-pitched chirps, air rushes through the outer wing feathers, producing a twittering sound as he twists and dances in the sky.

© Nathan Dubrow

Luckily for us, it is easy to observe these impressive flights. Although woodcocks nest in forested areas, they prefer to perform their courtship displays in more open habitats. 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 dancing grounds before twilight.

Need some guidance? Check out some of our upcoming woodcock programs.

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