This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

American Woodcock


ONE OF THE KEENEST PLEASURES FOR THE AVID BIRDER, or amateur lover of nature (I wish I was the former but will settle for the latter) is the spring courtship flight display of the American Woodcock. These elusive and rare birds of our NorthEastern Forests have been coming back over the last week or two from their winter homes along the Gulf; now it is time to mate. The male marks his territory and courts a female by performing a dizzying courtship flight: sitting in his territory (his "singing ground") the male sings a nasal "peent" every five seconds. After about 20 "peents," he bursts into crazy, erratic flight, spiraling high into the sky-- as much as 200 or 300 feet. He sings to waiting females while his wings whistle as the wind passes through his feathers. He dive-bombs back down to the same spot after each flight and repeats this several times. He is prone to do this early in the morning for about 50 minutes, and early in the evening for 30 minutes.

The Atlantic population of Woodcock has declined steadily over the past two decades. Loss of habitat through conversion of brush-covered land into house-lots, tree plantations, and mature forests is mostly responsible for their downfall. Moosehorn U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, in Baring, Maine (wherever that might be) specializes in intensely studying these birds in an attempt to stave off their decline. (Yes, the US Wildlife Refuges are the same things that Bush has slashed again and again, including this year as well, as I wrote several blogs back. I was thinking along our glorious walk today along the north shore of Spot Pond (where there was trash by the side of the road-- the MDC used to pick it up but their budget has been cut too) how much better the world would have been, and how many hundreds of thousands of people would be alive today, if Bush, instead of being president, had been given an idiot's stick (as we used to call them in Southie-- those trash-picker-upper poles with the sharp spike at the end) and told to go clean up roads. All better off indeed. But I digress.) Now that their budget has been cut again, I suppose this work will come to an end. At any rate, Clay called the other day and he and bunch of birders are meeting Saturday night at a place known for its Woodcock sightings, and asked me to join them, so I probably will. And Dave of Benson Place wrote today (or yesterday) that he witnessed a spring concert early last evening of woodcock and bluebird. I'm jealous as all hell!

Here's the woodcock's call-- http://wildspace.ec.gc.ca/media/sounds/amwo.wav

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