Now that our nights are finally warm enough that you can tolerate being outside for a few minutes, it is a great opportunity to try observing mating American Woodcocks. While visual observation may be difficult because the displays usually begin around dusk, even just the auditory experience is worth having.
It begins with male American Woodcocks vocalizing on their ‘singing grounds’ as they give a low nasal ‘peent’. This noise is very reminiscent of the calls you hear from Common Nighthawks, although you often hear the nighthawks in the air while you are more likely to hear woodcocks on the ground. From the ground, American Woodcocks also give a very soft deep ‘tuko’ that almost sounds like a cat purring.
The most amazing display is when the male takes to the air making a soft vocal chirping noise accompanied by a mechanical twittering that is produced by wind rushing through their notched outer flight feathers. A diagram of these amazing flights was draw by Loring Turrell and is available here.
Finally, if a female is interested and comes near the male, he will often raise his wing vertically, begin giving out the ‘tuko’ notes and slowly approach her.
I went out on a warm night last week to film a few male woodcocks. You can see that video below.
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A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.