by Carl Strang
After yesterday’s account of woodcocks at Mayslake, I thought I’d share my dossier on that species. As always, I began with my observations of the species prior to setting up the dossier in 1987, then added observations coded by date:
Once I got a close look at one beside the Tippecanoe River. It walked slowly, with a peculiar bobbling gait, teetering on its short legs. Courtship display observed near Purdue in IN, in PA, and in DuPage County, IL. Male usually flies to his dancing ground in mid-late dusk, with distinctive mothlike flight (continuous flapping of round wings, with some curves and turns in course). Display begins with male on ground, emitting a flat, buzzing call, “beezt,” at 2-8-second intervals. A close observer hears a faint hiccup preceding (coupled to) this “peent” call. The bird turns occasionally to face in different directions. After several minutes of peenting the woodcock takes off, flying low with a whistling titter sound, then turning and flying upward in a spiraling or zigzagging climb. When the bird is near the apex of his flight he still is roughly over his ground site, and the whistling becomes more frantic and labored, in bursts rather than continuous. Finally he hovers or zigzags at an altitude of at least 300 feet, singing a beautiful plaintive whistling song with repeated phrases of separate notes going up in pitch, then down (usually 3 notes, with increasing emphasis, then 3 notes down with lower emphasis). Finally the bird becomes silent and zigzags steeply back to Earth, usually landing where he started, in a little arena of short grass within an early-shrub-stage old field near heavier brush. Often a bird will have 2-3 alternate ground sites. Began late March, ended by 1MY in northern IL, often extending later (even into June) in Indiana, e.g. at Hartz Lake. One bird was observed dealing with an intruder on 2 different nights at Pratts Wayne Woods Forest Preserve, in 1986. Intruder peented a couple times, resident made a loud long buzzing call, then flew toward the intruder, who took off. The pursuing bird escorted the intruder away the first time, but chased it closely for a long time the second night, eventually returning to his initial site. In NE IL the birds danced for around 45 minutes, going up 3-12 times during that period. As the season grew late, they went up fewer times.
12JL87. Flushed 2 in nearly dry artesian-well pond at Culver Fish Hatchery. Looked a little unsteady in flight: youngsters?
8AP89. No woodcocks flew at Pratts Wayne Woods (I heard 7-9 the previous week, and they flew for a program 4 days before that). Weather cold after a cold front, with snow. Also failed to fly 4 days later. Weather cold through that period. A couple peents each night, no more.
15AP89. Hartz Lake, IN. I approached 2 displaying woodcocks. One walked around a lot, over a 10-15 foot area, stretching up and walking slow or fast, between flights. Other walked only a little. First’s peenting frequency became very rapid once, when another woodcock flew over.
13MY89. Still going strong at Hartz Lake. After quitting in dark, one began peenting intermittently later (I was camping), well after dark, and even flew once, at ~11pm. No moon, dark with intermittent showers.
26-29MY90. Hartz Lake. Display still strong on 26th, with about 5 flights in evening. But number of flights tailed off daily. Both morning and evening displays. Morning pattern the reverse of evening’s. Only peented morning of 30th.
2JE90. Woodcock tracks in muddy rut of path at Pratts Wayne Woods. Interspersed with many beak-probe holes. Holes 1/8″ in diameter, sometimes soft mud produces a little larger hole. Middle toe 1.25-1.5″ long, side toes around 1-1.25″.
28FE00. 3 woodcocks peenting in north part of Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve. At least one did complete display at least once.
27MR00. As I ran the prairie path near the Northwoods subdivision at Timber Ridge Forest Preserve, I heard 2 peents from a marshy area at around 6:15pm, well before the light was dim enough for the usual beginning of the courtship display.
27AP06. Fullersburg. Woodcock probed in wet soil near edge of Salt Creek on Willow Island. Caught a large worm, pulled it out, cheeks bulged as it swallowed. Resumed probing after rocking from foot to foot several times. Later, when approached by a red-winged blackbird, it severely cocked its tail up beyond vertical. When the blackbird moved on the woodcock flew across the creek to a brushy area to the south.