Posted by Rick Remington, Conservation Director
I’ve been observing woodcocks every spring for over 30 years. Lucky for me, I’ve always lived somewhere where their arrival and evening courtship ritual were easily observed. I watched them with my wife back when we were dating. I watched them with my daughter when she was just a baby. And so each spring, its one of the bright spots on my long to-do list.
Watching woodcocks doesn’t take a tremendous amount of skill, but the birds require a particular type of habitat for this part of their life cycle. An old field or marsh where the grasses are flattened from winter snow, a meadow with sparse tree growth, or even an early successional forest with enough openings for the birds to feel safe on the ground and have easy access to the sky. It helps that I have a south-facing seeping slope that attracts the birds during the day for feeding, the ground moist, muddy and snow-free to accommodate their long beaks.
I listen at dusk for their nasal-sounding “peent” indicating they are on the ground, or the trilling sound during their aerial flight display. While they are in flight, I have 30-40 seconds to relocate myself closer to their point of take-off. If I am lucky, and still, the male woodcock will land near me and begin to call. They tend to return to good display areas unless alarmed or scared away. So I am quiet, still and respectful in sharing their space for awhile, until it is their time to fly again in their serpentine course into the sky. And so goes our dance until it is too dark for me to see. After dark, their calls and display continue into the night.
The American Woodcock is considered a Special Concern Species in Wisconsin, and a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). These designations highlight species which are rare, declining or at risk because of threats to their habitat or other life cycle needs. And so I hope my work with Landmark and throughout my career has made a difference – is making a difference – for birds like these, and other at risk species. They need our help, and during these stressful and uncertain times, I believe they can help us as well. Get outside and enjoy spring everyone!