by Kelsey King
Spring is on its way and we’ll soon start going outdoors without having to wear 50 layers of clothing. If you wait for a warm evening and go for a walk in open wet fields, you may hear a whistling and nasally call or “peent” sound near sunset. That “peenting” would be an American woodcock (Scolopax minor).
Bog sucker, mud snipe, timber rocket, and my favorite, timberdoodles, may all be fun names to call the American woodcock. The strange sounds are all part of the male’s courtship dance. The male will sit on the ground peenting to attract a female. Once he has her attention, he flies in a wild whistling spiral acrobatic show up to great heights in the sky. On the way down he follows a zigzag flight pattern back to the ground. He’s not really whistling, but is actually pushing air through his outer primary feathers.
During the day they like to spend time in wet thickets, moist woods, and in brushy swamps typically eating insects or burying their beaks into the ground to grab worms. After the sun sets or before sunrise, you can find them in the open fields or swamp edges preparing for their mating ritual dance.
So what do these timber rockets look like? They are about the size of an American robin and mottled russet or brown. Instead of their eyes being on the front of their head, they’re oriented higher and more towards the back of their head. This is so they can see 270 degrees around themselves to detect potential predators! Their long beak is an excellent tool for probing the mud looking for worms and insects.
Look for timberdoodles along the entrance road to the Center. They are common in the early spring from mid-March to early April and you just may be lucky to catch their courtship dance.