The American Woodcock is a secretive nocturnal bird that acts as unique as it looks! This warm, earthy shorebird makes its living in moist grassy margins near wooded lots.
A common breeder along the shores of the Great Lakes these are always a highlight at The Biggest Week in American Birding with specialized night walks (affectionately referred to as “Timberdoodle Schnoodles”) scheduled to see this amazing bird in action. The call is a familiar “Peent” which went semi-viral on YouTube, Tumbler, Facebook, etc. when set to a Collective Soul classic track here – perhaps the only time American Woodcocks may go “mainstream”.
The “peent” call is typically heard without the accompaniment of electric guitar though, and carries throughout the still night air in springtime as these birds engage in elaborate breeding displays. Between the “peents” the American Woodcock will bounce in place or even between steps through the grasses in a move I like to call the “Woodcock Shuffle” as seen in the slo-mo video below I took at the Biggest Week with the V-lux (typ 114) camera last week.
As if fancy ground work weren’t enough, the males also engage in an amazing aerial flight display where they spiral up to great heights, and then slip back toward earth in a series of maneuvers where they turn their bodies perpendicular to the ground and plummet to drop back down toward terra-firma. Occasionally, you will be able to view this amazing flight display near last or first light but it is typically hidden by the shroud of darkness, so happily the event is broadcast through a series of twitters and chirps. The sounds come from the air whistling through the stiff outer three feathers on the birds’ wings. The twittering sound gets a bit higher as the bird climbs to dizzying heights, and emphatic loud “chirps” are added. On the descent, each time the bird pulls out of its dramatic plunges, you will typically hear these chirps without the twittering, signaling the bird’s return to his dance floor.
Listen to a bit of the flight display noises here. Remember these are NOT vocalizations but all part of the male Woodcock’s elaborate control of the outer feathers of the wing! Like blowing wind over reeds in a woodwind instrument the awesome American Woodcock controls the precise position of these stiff feathers to create his own symphony that is guaranteed to attract the ladies. Just another reason we think the American Woodcock is amazingly cool, “Peent!”