18 February 2009

The Timberdoodles are Coming!

With the increasing daylight hours comes the northward migration of our winged neighbors. One of the more charismatic, and one of my personal favorites, has to be the Timberdoodle. This woodland shorebird is more commonly known as the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). I'm not sure what it is that makes the American Woodcock so intriguing... the long beak, the beautifully camouflaged pattern, the ability to remain completly still and quiet until you are just a half step from stepping on them, the adept aerial displays, or the tranquil and recognizable "peent" call that they make as part of their courship ritual.

If you've never seen the male American Woodcock trying to attract a mate in the spring, you are missing out on one of the true wonders of nature. It starts around sunset, when the woodcock moves to an open or brushy, moist field and begins giving nasal "peent" calls while hidden among grasses. He then takes to the wing and flies up and in a wide spiral fashion to heights of over 300 feet. As he is gaining altitude, his wings make a characteristic twittering sound. Then, all of a sudden, like a balloon being shot with a dart, he zigzags to the ground at a great rate of speed, letting out a few chirps as the ground gets closer and closer. When he lands, he begins the peenting and the ritual all over, until he is rewarded with an enamored female. This display makes it very easy to see a woodcock up close, as they often land near the same place from which they took off.

How long did it take you to find the "bog sucker," as woodcocks are also sometimes called, in the photo above? She's right in the middle of the photo, if you still can't find her. Justin Thomas and I found this little lady as we were preparing to burn his property in Salem, Missouri last March. After finding her, we noticed the four brown speckled eggs within three feet of her.

Find mom and her eggs yet? If not, check the top left and the bottom right in the photo above. There they are, wonderfully camouflaged. Who needs a fancy nest in a tree when you blend in with leaf litter so well on the ground?

Yep... that's an American Woodcock nest. After a few stressful minutes of having Justin and me around the nest, the female woodcock took off. How do I know it was a female? Because the males don't play any part in parenting after copulation. Justin and I knew that the fire would probably toast these eggs, so we created a wetline in a ring around the nest and kept the fire out of this area. It's possible that the nest was predated after the fire, but for that brief time we felt good about saving these future woodcocks.
There have already been reports of "peent" calls in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan this year, so keep your ears open, and watch where you step!


Justin said...

Good stuff, Scott. They're back!! Just yesterday evening, just after sunset, I was coming back from putting the chickens away when I heard the call of the the timberdoodle. I instantly relived the very events you described above. I'll have to watch to see the dive of the male this year.

Scott said...

Be sure to take a flashlight!