The gift of birdwatching: American woodcock

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The aerial dance of the American woodcock is enacted nightly on hundreds of farms. Photo by Chris Wood, allaboutbirds.org

The flight pattern graph of the American woodcock was produced by Lang Elliott for musicofnature.com.

This week’s Gift of Bird Watching species is the American woodcock. If you have never witnessed this bird’s sky dance in early spring, you are missing out on a real treat!

Find a forested area with a large clearing, and take a seat at the edge, just before sunset. These beautifully camouflaged birds are difficult to see but can be located by listening for a couple of their distinct sounds.

As daylight dims, its call starts as an unmusical “peent” about four seconds apart. Then it launches skyward, making a spaceship-type winnowing. It disappears and then falls back to earth, usually just a few feet from where it took off.

In “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold waxes poetically about the sky dance. “The drama of the sky dance is enacted nightly on hundreds of farms,” Leopold said, “the owners of which sigh for entertainment, but harbor the illusion that it is to be sought in theaters. They live on the land, but not by the land.”

You can find these birds at the astronomical clock at Hanging Rock, the oak savanna at Voas Nature Area and near the arena at Kuehn Conservation Area.

Mike Havlik is a naturalist in the Dallas County Conservation Department.

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