One of the earliest signs of spring is the American Woodcock’s mating dance. Also known as timberdoodles, American Woodcocks return from southern states in mid-March to establish territories and begin breeding.
Woodcocks are tiny game birds that are normally very reclusive and prefer to avoid being seen. To help with this, they have some of the best forest camouflaging of any other wildlife. All of this changes for a brief period in the spring when the males take center stage to attract a female mate.
The male American Woodcock’s mating display is often referred to as a “sky dance” and takes place only at dawn or dusk. A male will begin to call with a nasally, buzzy “peent” sound. Then, suddenly, he takes off from the ground, climbing 100 – 300 feet in the air. They perform a twisting and twirling flight display while emitting sounds made by the feathers on their wings, before landing in the same spot they took off from.
In his most well-known book, A Sand County Almanac,” conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote of the American Woodcock’s sky dance: “Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.”
We can thank the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for making it possible to view the American Woodcock’s marvelous spring mating display. The act has been the most powerful bird protection law ever signed.
Year of the Bird
To celebrate the centennial of the signing of the act into law, National Geographic, National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab on Ornithology and BirdLife International have named 2018 the Year of the Bird. These conservation agencies are helping people take small actions to help birds in a big way. Helping and caring for birds isn’t limited to putting out bird feeders in your backyard. In fact, even if you don’t have a backyard, there are simple things you can do to join the celebration. Learning about birds in your area and taking bird walks is one of them!
Witness the Woodcock’s Sky Dance
If you’d like to witness the American Woodcock’s wondrous sky dance and learn more about this strange-looking yet charming avian, join us on our “Woodcock Walk” on Wednesday, March 14, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Naperville. Learn about the mysterious lives of woodcocks and witness their display firsthand. Be sure to dress for the weather and remember flash photography is not allowed for the safety of the birds. The program costs $5 per person and is for ages 12 and up; under 18 with an adult. Register online or at 630-850-8110.