Monday, March 21, 2011

Bird of the Week XXV - Monday, March 21st, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is a bird you probably haven't seen before, but does nest here in Reading. It is the American woodcock. The American woodcock is a shorebird that lives in forests! The American Woodcock is most frequently encountered at dusk when the male's chirping, peenting aerial displays attract attention. Otherwise the superbly camouflaged bird is difficult to discover on the forest floor where it probes for earthworms. The flexible tip of the American Woodcock's bill is specialized for catching earthworms. The bird probably feels worms as it probes in the ground. A woodcock may rock its body back and forth without moving its head as it slowly walks around, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, increasing their detectablity.The Woodcock is plump, with a round head, no apparent neck, and a long bill. It's coloring is shades of brown, buff, and gray which allows it to camouflage itself quite nicely. The American woodcock is a gamebird, meaning that it can be leagally hunted.
The male American Woodcock has an elaborate display to attract females. He gives repeated "peents" on the ground, often on remaining patches of snow in the early spring. After a time he flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. After reaching a height of about 300 feet,  the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts chirping as he starts to descend. He comes down in a zig-zag, diving fashion, chirping as he goes. As he comes near the ground he silently lands, near a female if she is present. Then he starts peenting again. You can observe this spectacular courtship display at the Bare Meadow Conservation Land, off of Pearl St. here in Reading. They display just before dawn and again at dusk.  To listen to a brief podcast entitled, "Woodcock's Sky Dance", click here and then click Play MP3.

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