Wednesday morning, March 4, actually before dawn, I heard the distinctive “peent, peent...” call of the American Woodcock.
The bird often first makes an appearance after migrating from the southern states around here, in late February. Thus, it’s possible that it could have arrived before then.
The best time to hear this bird is before dawn and at dusk or later. The male of this species begins calling out and then becomes airborne, going into its courtship flight. It makes a twittering sound during that flight. The female watches nearby and if attracted, moves closely to where the male silenty lands from his lofty flight. (allaboutbirds.com).
The woodcock, with a strong affinity for earthworms, hides out in fields and on the forest floor. The woodcock also eats other bugs found in the fields, as well as a small amount of plant matter. The bird is hide to find, because its coloration of a mix of browns, grays and blacks, giving them the perfect camouflage. The woodcock also sports a long, 2.3-3 inch bill, which is perfect for digging into the wet soil to find its favorite food.
A 12-inch-long, plump-bodied bird with short legs and a rounded head, the woodcock has some interesting nicknames.
Those nicknames range from timberdoodle, to bog sucker and then there’s the labrador twister. In addition, the quirky looking woodcock had eyes positioned high on the head, probably in order to see predators flying above.
When hunting for earthworms, the woodcock rocks back and forth while walking. It is perceived that the rocking stirs up the earthworms, making them easier to detect.
The woodcock begins nesting in March or April, laying two to five eggs. According to allaboutbirds.com, “the nest is built in an exposed site on the ground, usually in upland woods. The female makes a shallow depression in leaf and twig litter.” And it is well camouflaged. The male does not engage in any parental activities.
Incubation takes 20-22 days and the youngsters are able to leave the nest a few hours later. They are able to probe in the dirt for earthworms at just three days old. The female feeds the young for the first week and then the youngsters become independent.
The woodcock, considered a shorebird, at five million recorded birds, is the most common sandpiper in North America. The woodcock begins to migrate in October to the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, with the greatest concentration of birds in northern Alabama.