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Elusive Timberdoodles (Woodcocks) in Sub/urbia

1st of 2 woodcock adventures!

A nasal “peeent” is what we’re hoping to hear. A group of at-least-middle-aged adults are standing at the back of the county library parking lot. On a Sunday evening. At dusk. Staring away from the library building, but towards an empty field and a storm water management area.

library parking lot

started here

There are about 10 of us. A few are quiet, in concentration, focused on listening for that sound. Others, myself included, chatter with new acquaintances, giggling a little over the unlikely scenario we chose for the end of the week-end.

An email sent to members of the local bird club was the catalyst for our gathering. Someone thought they had heard a woodcock in this spot. Is any one interested in finding out? and several of us joined in.

The most common adjective I’ve heard for woodcocks is “elusive”: fleeting, evasive, temporary. Woodcocks are in my county only at a certain time of year (for mating), and only briefly. They need a particular habitat. And they’re generally only heard as dusk turns into night. So that pretty much crosses them off the list of birds I’m likely to see.

They’re on my list of “celebrity” birds because of their elusiveness and mating ritual – it is distinctive and elaborate. It begins with their nasally peenting call. The bird, on the ground, will turn in a circle while calling. Often it can sound like several birds, or you’re not sure which direction it’s coming from. The bird may peent a few times, or dozens of times. When it’s ready, it zooms up into the sky. Apparently, it circles and circles before zooming back down. He ends his flight often in the exact spot he took off from.

Learning woodcocks may be nearby, in an easily accessible location, was an opportunity not to turn up. So we stood there. And as the sky darkened we practically cheered when we distinctly heard the first “peent”. The bird was in a row of brush edging the field, a boundary for the manicured lawns of the houses nearby. A few more calls, and then the bird took off into the sky, and returned several seconds later, zooming right back to the spot he left. This went on sporadically for about 15 minutes and then the show was over. For several of us, it was our first woodcock observance. For the others, it was another page in the cycle of spring.