Woodcock Sky Courtship
The first time I witnessed the woodcock mating ritual was in Knoxville, Tennessee in early March in the backwoods of Ijams Nature Center. The senior naturalist, Stephen Lyn Bales, led a small group of us along an old farming road just before dusk.
The spring peepers were calling in full force and the barred owls were waking up for the evening. We bushwhacked to a small clearing in the middle of a young forest with brush on all sides. Lyn directed us to the edge of the clearing and pointed out the spot where the woodcock was known to do his courtship dance. Then, we waited in silence as the shadows grew longer.
Just when my patience was wearing thin, a bird about the size of my foot with a long, thin beak landed in the exact spot, Lyn, had pointed out to us earlier! I couldn't see it very well, but I could hear it "peenting" loudly. Then, it spiraled up into the sky making a twittering sound that got louder and louder the higher it flew until we could barely see it anymore. We kept watch and moments later, it landed in that same spot in the clearing again. This happened a few more times while we could still see.
I remember thinking that it was magical, the way Lyn knew just when and where that male woodcock would land and perform his mating ritual. It seems that woodcocks are creatures of habit and perform this show night after night in the same area.
In NH, the woodcock courtship displays begin in March and continue into June. I was excited to find out that some of the county lands in Unity were managed for woodcock in 2008, so we may still have some hanging around. I'll be sure to check the edges of the hayfields this spring to see if that is the case.
NHPR has a great post on this mating ritual and you can listen to it too. The Last Green Valley has another great article on Woodcocks in New England.