Friday, March 11, 2011

LOOK FOR: Woodcocks (or Timberdoodles)

Photo credit: Gene Han
Woodcocks are funny-looking birds with a shorebird's long beak and a big eye that looks a little misplaced. People have given them all kinds of silly names: mudbat, bogsucker, and -- perhaps most celebrated -- timberdoodle.

Most people will never see a woodcock, let alone worry about what to call one. They're mostly quiet during the day. They hang out on the ground, where they blend in so well with leaves and dry grasses that you might walk right past one and never notice. More likely, they're in a moist area that you're not going to walk through anyway (thus the "bogsucker" nickname).

But every spring, the male of this retiring species puts on a show. At twilight, he starts on the ground with a funny, buzzy noise that birders describe as a peent. Then he flies up 200+ feet in the air, and dives back down again, zigging and zagging, wings whistling as he goes. He'll repeat the whole thing several times in an evening. Other males will join in, all trying to outdo each other and attract the ladies.

This video gives some sense of what it's like, though there's a lot more waiting involved:

Woodcocks often return to the same mating grounds every year, so local birding groups can help you find them. Last year groups went out just about every week in March. Check our calendar for listings -- and also the longer list of groups below the calendar.

Want to try finding a bird on your own? Here's a great video from Sharon Stiteler of Birdchick on how she looks for woodcocks:

Let us know if you have any luck timberdoodling!