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!