Sunday, April 19, 2020

American Woodcock: The Harbingers of Spring

The arrival of American Woodcock back to New York is a telltale sign that spring is here to stay. Despite their diminutive size, woodcock are one of the earliest ground-nesting birds in the state. Just this week, DEC Biologist Jeremy Hurst found this female nesting in the snow on his property near Albany. If you’re curious where NY’s woodcock come from – DEC is currently part of a large cooperative research project to track both Fall and Spring migration of woodcock throughout their eastern range using tiny GPS transmitters. For weekly updates on their migration, please visit the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative’s website.

Look and listen

Getting outdoors and observing wildlife is a great way to stave off cabin fever in these tough times of social distancing. The coming weeks are also the perfect time to get outdoors and listen for the distinctive breeding calls and displays of the American woodcock. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website for audio recordings. Each spring, in an effort to attract a female, the male woodcock will periodically “peent” from the ground. Then he will fly 300-500 feet in the air and slowly fly in a circle while rubbing his outermost flight feathers together to make a “twinkling” sound. Once you’ve heard this distinctive calling display, you can’t miss it! The best time to hear woodcock is April through May during the final hour of light, often just after legal sunset. To improve your odds of finding these birds, look for old farm fields that are becoming overgrown or agricultural fields near dense cover. Finding places with less noise pollution will also greatly increase your odds of hearing woodcock – so skip the field with a babbling brook next to it.

Public domain photo courtesy of

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.

4 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Thanks for the article!

    Another interesting fact is when a male is displaying and “peenting” on the ground, he typically does so in four different directions before taking off on his bizarre spiral display. I have seen them do this once or twice in a mowed yard and it is quite interesting. I have heard that the 4 directions correspond to the cardinal points of a compass, but can’t actually confirm that. If you are listening to a nearby vocalization, and cannot see the bird, you will likely notice that some peents seem louder than others. This is why – it depends on what direction he is facing.

  2. Sandor says:

    The woodcocks dance has nothing to do with compass points.Its an evolutionary adaptation that allows it to free fall up to 300 feet and spiral downward to impress its female target.Natgeo in 1976…

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